§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
Sir, it appears to me that it is not improper to take this Constitutional opportunity of asking the attention of the House, and of demanding from Her Majesty's Government some explanation of the remarkable, and I will say deplorable, results of the policy which the Government are pursuing in Ireland, and especially with regard to the right of public meetings. When I first gave the Government Notice of my intention to call the attention of this House to the circumstances of their interference with public meeting, it was before the recent fatal events at Mitchelstown on Friday last. Upon that subject I feel the necessity and propriety of observing great reserve, from the fact that those events must necessarily become the subject of judicial inquiry; first of all, of the Coroner's inquest; and, secondly, it may be of a higher and more serious tribunal; but upon that unhappy event I will only say that, unfortunately, the history of this country and of other countries teaches us that such events as these are the usual and the necessary results of a violent and unconstitutional action on the part of the responsible Government of the Crown. The policy of coercion has, in former days, led to similar results in this country, and it is natural enough that it should bring forth the fruits of blood. You cannot expect to gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles.
Therefore, Sir, the only thing I can say is this—that the House, under those circumstances, is entitled to know what are the instructions which the Irish Government have given to the Irish 290 police and to the military forces in Ireland with reference to their action at public meetings. Do not let us be told that these are confidential instructions which ought not to be revealed. The Chief Secretary for Ireland has no difficulty whatever in revealing these instructions when he chooses. I think the first fruit of his administration in Ireland was the open telegram to the police, which was couched, I think, in these words—"Do not hesitate to shoot;" and I want to know whether those instructions are the general instructions of the Irish Government to the Irish police? Sir, the instructions to the police in England are of a different character.
We have been told, by many Conservative candidates at the last Election, and, I think, by all the Liberal Unionist candidates, that what they desired was a similar treatment for Ireland and for England. The instructions to the police in England with reference to public meetings I will read from the orders to the police in London—In the case of public meetings the police are not to interfere with persons attending political meetings, unless specially ordered by the Commissioner "—that is, the Chief Commissioner. [An hon. MEMBER: Hear, hear!] Yes; and what we want to know is whether the interference on this occasion was ordered by the head of the police in Ireland, in order that we may see whether there is similar treatment in Ireland and in England. The next instruction is—The police on duty at the entrance, and in streets near the public building where the meeting is held, are not to enter the building or to interfere, unless to suppress an actual breach of the peace, or to take into custody any person committing any act for which the police would be entitled to arrest him.Although confined in terms to political meetings, the above instructions are applied in practice to a great variety of bodies, and to meetings out-of-doors as well as indoors.
Well, Sir, there is another question that I should like to ask. There has appeared in the papers to-day an announcement which I cannot but regard as a very grave one, and it is that the administration as Permanent Under Secretary in Ireland by Sir Redvers Buller has come to an end. It is a singular moment indeed for a person filling that responsible position to retire. 291 I shall be glad to know if it is the fact, and what are the reasons for that retirement? I remember the noble Lord the Member for Devonshire justifying his vote on the policy of coercion on account of the well-known clemency of Sir Redvers Buller, who was to have the administration of that policy. Well, Sir, General Buller was the one—I was going to say the only—Member of the Irish Administration who could be expected to temper justice with mercy. He at least has expressed in public what we have heard from no other Member of the Irish Administration—a personal sympathy with a suffering people. And it is just at the moment when this new policy is adopted, which is already stained with blood, that Sir Redvers Buller is no longer to be at the Castle at Dublin; and if that be the case, I suppose it is because he is to be replaced by someone who is deemed fitter to do the work which is to be done.
I desire to call attention to the policy of the Government and the principles upon which they say that policy is rested. I venture to say that the principles as enunciated, I think, on Friday last by the Chief Secretary and by the responsible Law Adviser of the Irish Government, are the most dangerous and. The most unsound doctrines in respect to the right of public meetings that have ever been proclaimed in this country. I desire, in the first place, to observe that this is not a question which affects Ireland alone. Those principles are not principles applicable at all exclusively to Ireland; they affect every subject of the Queen in every part of the United Kingdom.
Analogies were drawn the other night from circumstances which occurred under the Administration of Lord Spencer. What were those circumstances? Special powers had been granted upon a special application to Parliament under the Act of 1882, and no precedent derived from that period under the Crimes Act of 1882 is of the smallest value for the present consideration. The Government asked for and obtained special powers. Why? On account of the prevalence—the unfortunate prevalence—of crime in Ireland at that period which culminated in the murders in Phoenix Park. I was in a great degree responsible for the obtaining of that Act, and, therefore, I 292 know upon what grounds those powers were asked for. They were asked for upon the advice which we received that no such powers existed at Common Law. Therefore, the powers in that Act were granted that "the Lord Lieutenant may prohibit any meeting which he has reason to believe to be dangerous to the public peace and safety." Why were those powers granted in the Act of 1882? Because without that Statute those powers did not exist.
Now, the exercise of that power under the Act of 1882 was described by the Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1884–1 think it was upon the Address—and I am correctly describing it when I say that it was actually employed in several instances for about 12 months, but as the country quieted down that power ceased to be employed. I am not speaking here of the cases in Ulster, where the difficult question arose of the collision of hostile bodies of different parties; I am speaking of the suppression of public meetings, specially with reference to the danger that might indirectly arise from them in the district where they were held. As soon as the country quieted down it was the policy of Lord Spencer to allow public meetings everywhere. I think they were generally allowed in 1884, they were allowed in 1885, they were allowed under the Government of Lord Salisbury in 1886.
In 1887—this year—the Government came to Parliament. They asked for special powers in reference to Ireland; but they made no demand for special powers in respect to public meetings. They made a special merit of this. The Liberal Unionists went about the country, saying this is a moderate Bill, that it contained no legislation against public meetings, as there was in the Bill of 1882. There was no cause to ask for it, and the Government either thought it was not wanted, or did not dare to ask for it. The country had been tranquil for three years. Any attempt to suppress public meetings upon the grounds now alleged, had been early disused, even while the Crimes Act was in force. If the Government had asked for it, they could not have obtained it in this House. The Liberal Unionists have swallowed a great deal; but there were some things which they could not stomach, and I doubt whether a demand for the suppression of public meetings 293 in Ireland could have been obtained from those who pledged themselves to equal treatment of Ireland and England. What happened to the Government when they proposed to change the venue to England? They had to drop it. When they proposed to do away with trial by jury in Ireland, and substitute Judges, they had to abandon the demand; and if they had proposed to stop public meetings they could not have carried it.
What the Government are now doing is, not having asked for powers, to proceed just as if they had asked for and obtained these powers. What is the claim of the Government in respect of public meetings? It is very important to see, first of all, that they do not pretend—in the case of the Ennis meeting, which they proclaimed, it is not pretended—that the avowed object of the meeting was unlawful. It is not asserted that at that meeting, or arising immediately out of that meeting at that place and time, violence on the spot was feared. That was admitted—frankly admitted by the Chief Secretary. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] Oh yes; he said there was not likely to be disturbance, because opinion was all on one side. That is the reason why there was no apprehension of tumult or disturbance, and that is the reason why the Government were determined to suppress that meeting. The more certain it was that this meeting was an expression of the unanimous sentiment of the district, the more determined were the Government to suppress it.
What is the astounding position of law contended for by the Government? I am taking it from the mouth of their most responsible Member, the Law Adviser of the Government of Ireland. I ask the attention of the Attorney General for Ireland to his own words. He said—The ground on which the Government proclaimed that assembly as an illegal one, was under the common law.The common law! I ask the attention of the House and of the nation to this language.The common law enabled a responsible Government to declare that it would suppress and prevent the holding of an assembly which it regarded upon the evidence before it as calculated to cause public disorder, or to be called for an improper purpose.294 For an improper purpose!It was impossible to say beforehand, from the mere statements of the placard, what the actual circumstances of the meeting would be, or what would be the danger of the meeting. There was no doubt that many references would be made at this meeting to the action of the Government in proclaiming it.Now, that is the ground upon which the Government claim the right to suppress meetings not in Ireland alone, but in England, in Scotland, and in Wales, because, in their opinion, it is an improper purpose to denounce the conduct of the Government. These are the principles upon which a responsible Government are prepared to deal with the right of public meeting in a free country.
I will ask leave to examine into that doctrine and the claim which it involves. I will venture to say that if that is true, or anything like the truth, no public meeting can be held anywhere in this country, except at the will and pleasure of the Government. The Government may declare any meeting unlawful, and suppress it if it is held for what, in their opinion, is an improper purpose. What is an improper purpose? If you you say "treason," we know what that means. If you say "sedition," that has a legal meaning. [" Hear, hear ! ""] Yes; but why have you not the courage to say so? This is not the loose language of a layman. This is the language of a lawyer, who knows the importance of the meaning of the terms which he is employing. Why does he not say that the meeting was treasonable or seditious? Why does he skulk behind such language as I have quoted? I claim the right for any meeting, whether in Ireland or in England, to denounce the Executive Government. I claim the right for any public meeting to denounce the action of the Legislature.
Public meetings of this kind have been held—happily, they were held—in former days when the Government and the House of Commons violated the Constitution, in the case of Wilkes, in the case of the American War, in the days of Reform, and in the days of the agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws. Why, what was the object of such meetings, except to denounce the Government and the Parliamentary majority by which that Government was 295 sustained? These meetings were hostile to the Government and to the majority of the House of Commons. You may hold meetings even hostile to the House of Lords. I have attended a meeting held under the presidency of my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) in the park at Chatsworth, to denounce the House of Lords for their conduct in respect to the franchise; and I have no doubt that in the opinion of the Government of to-day and of the present Law Officers, that was a most improper purpose, and the meeting should have been suppressed. So much for the improper purpose that enables the Government to suppress a meeting.
Now, Sir, I will take another branch of the argument of the Attorney General for Ireland, where he says that he may suppress meetings which are calculated to cause public disorder. He does not say public disorder at the meeting, nor as a necessary consequence of the meeting. In the passage that I have read, it was to be on the hypothesis of what the speakers might say at the meeting. But it was not one hypothesis only. It is on a calculation of what it was possible the speakers might say, and what might be possible consequences of what the speakers might possibly say. That is the ground on which public meetings in this country are to be put down. We have heard of constructive treason, and I do not think the opinion of the people in this country is favourable to the doctrine of constructive treason; but the Attorney General for Ireland's doctrine of constructive impropriety is one of the most extraordinary doctrines ever propounded to restrain the rights of a free people. People are to be condemned not for what they say, not for what they do, but for what the Attorney General for Ireland or a Resident Magistrate may think it possible they may say, and, in consequence of the possibility of their saying it, somebody else may possibly do. That is the doctrine of the Government on the subject of the right of public meeting. If people say what is treasonable or seditious, they may be punished for it. ["Hear, hear!" from the Ministerial Benches.] Then, why do you not take that course? Why do you not wait till you know what they say, and then punish them? But these Rhadaman- 296 thine statesmen are determined to punish people for treason and sedition before they have done the one or said the other. It is to be left apparently to the imagination of the Executive Government to determine the right of the English people to public discussion at all.
And that a responsible Government has the courage—I was almost going to say the impudence—to affirm is the Common Law and the Constitution of England. I take the liberty to denonnce that doctrine. I say it is not the Common Law—it is not the Constitution of this country. It is a flagrant breach and denial of the fundamental principles of both. It is wholly incompatible with the existence of a free Government, or with the rights of a free people. Now I venture to say that no such claim as was made by the Government on Friday night has ever before been advanced by the worst men in the worst time of the history of this country. I have no doubt they have taken for their model the statesmen who persecuted Mr. Wilkes; they have taken for their example the Government of Lord North, who lost the American Colonies; but I will pay them the compliment of saying that they have outdone both.
I will show the House that, even in those times, no such pretension was made such as that which is put forth by the Government now. One feels almost ashamed to be called upon to vindicate the fundamental principles of English liberty at this time of day; but if I may be allowed to make a brief reference to the history of the right of public meeting in this country, I can demonstrate and prove, up to the hilt, that the principles proclaimed by the Government are directly in the teeth of the Common Law and of the Constitution of this country. During the whole of the 18th century the right of public meeting, was, I think, hardly invaded at all. It was by the right of public meeting in the most turbulent times and in the most disturbed districts, that the great problem of the liberties of this country was satisfactorily worked out. From the time of Sacheverell down to the Excise disturbances in the time of Walpole, through the time of Wilkes and through the American War, public meetings were the great instrument by which a misguided King and a corrupt 297 Administration were restrained by the English people. What do you suppose George III. and his Ministers thought of the meetings which shouted for "Wilkes and Liberty"? What do you suppose they thought of the meetings during the American War? No doubt, they imagined that they were held for most improper purposes, and were likely to lead to public disorder. But they never attempted, as far as I know, to suppress them.
The first great attack on the right of public meeting in England made in Parliament was made in the white terror which arose out of the fear of revolutionary principles—French principles, as they were called. Very strong language was employed at that time. The language used in Parliament then was less polite than the language used in Parliament now. ["No, No!" from the Ministerial Benches.] Well, I am sure if any Member of the present House of Commons was to use such language as was used by Lord Chatham, Mr. Burke, Mr. Fox, and Lord Erskine, he would have been suspended long ago. I will read the language held in those days to a Government which violated the principles of the Constitution. Lord Chatham said—The Constitution has been grossly violated. The Constitution at this moment stands violated. Until that wound be healed, until the grievance be redressed, it is in rain to recommend union to Parliament, in vain to promote concord among the people. If we mean seriously to unite the nation within itself, we must convince them that their complaints are regarded, and their injuries shall be redressed. On that foundation I would take the lead in recommending peace and harmony to the people. On any other I would never wish to see them united again. If the breach in the Constitution be effectually repaired, the people will of themselves return to a state of tranquillity. If not, may discord prevail for over. I know to what point this doctrine and this language will appear directed. But I feel the principles of an Englishman, and I utter them without apprehension or reserve. The crisis is indeed alarming; so much the more does it require a prudent relaxation on the part of Government. If the King's servants will not permit a Constitutional question to be decided on according to the forms and on the principles of the Constitution, it must then be decided in some other manner. And rather than it should be given up, rather than the nation should surrender their birthright to a despotic Minister, I hope, my Lords, old as I am, I shall see the question brought to issue and fairly tried between the people and the Government. My Lords, this is not the language of faction: let it be tried by that criterion by which alone we can distinguish 298 what is factious from what is not—by the principles of the English Constitution. I have been bred up in these principles, and know that when the liberty of the subject is invaded and all redress denied him, resistance is justified.Those were days when violent conduct on the part of the Government required strong language and plain speaking on the part of those who did not intend that the rights of the people should be sacrificed. Those were days when people did not scruple to say what they thought, and say it in a very plain manner.
When language of that kind was held, there was no attempt to suppress public meetings until the unhappy period of 1795, when the celebrated Treason and Sedition Bills were introduced by Mr. Pitt. What was the Common Law at that time? It could not be more clearly shown than it was by the introduction in that Bill of a new doctrine. Erskine said—One of the clauses in the Bill lays down that in case such meeting shall, by reason of any special circumstances, become dangerous to the public peace in the judgment of two or more magistrates, they may suppress it.That is the very doctrine which the Attorney General for Ireland declares to exist at Common Law. But Mr. Pitt did not think so, and the men who advised him did not think so, and that was the reason why he introduced the Bill of 1795; and Erskine truly said that this was a—Discretion of a most dangerous kind given to the magistrates for the first time.Well, there were giants in those days; there were great prerogative lawyers, but they did not dare to hold the language which has been held by the Attorney General for Ireland. The object of the Bill was stated by Mr. Pitt's Solicitor General in these words—In order to prevent destructive views from being pursued under specious pretexts a magistrate was authorized to put an end to a meeting if his discretion suggested the necessity of such an exercise of authority.That is the Attorney General for Ireland's doctrine of improper views which he says exists at Common Law, but which the Act of 1795 was expressly passed to authorize. I need not say that the Liberal Party and men who had a regard for the principles of liberty resisted that legislation. Anyone who wishes to understand this question cannot do better than read the debates that took 299 place at that period. The argument in favour of the Government was stated in a speech, of most luminous eloquence by Sir William Grant. Did he pretend that any such right as is claimed by the Attorney General for Ireland exists at Common Law? No; he said that the Bill was an "infringement" of the Common Law, but that they must suppress part of the Constitution in order to save the rest. I think history has pronounced upon the results of the policy of 1795. It was, I believe, the cause of most of the domestic mischief that followed.
Erskine said of that Bill—The people are the proper judges of the grievances under which they labour "—not two Resident Magistrates—" They may think the measures of administration a grievance, yet under this Bill a magistrate is to be the judge of the nature of the complaint, however respectful and inoffensive, and may even pronounce a requisition which censured the ruinous measure of a Minister or proposed a reformation of abuses a crime against our law. Our ancestors were content to wait till some overt act appeared which was the subject of punishment; but under this Bill the determination of a magistrate is to interfere between the people and the assertion of their rights and the complaint of their grievances.He concludes with words which were true then, I believe, and which I am sure are true now—Depend upon it the people of England, unless they are lost to all sense of freedom and of national honour, will not and ought not to submit.But this policy of Mr. Pitt's in 1795 was a modest policy compared with that of the present Government. That Bill suspending the rights of the Constitution, and violating the doctrine of the Common Law, was limited to three years; but if the Attorney General for Ireland is right, the power which he arrogates is unlimited in point of time. I will pass to one other epoch. The coercive policy of Mr. Pitt passed out of his hands into an inferior grade. We are on a descending scale in connection with this subject. It passed from Mr. Pitt to the hands of Lord Sidmouth and Lord Castlereagh, and at last it has descended into the hands of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. A. J. Balfour).
We had experience of what this policy of coercion effected. We had 25 years of resolute government under a Tory Administration, and then came the Manchester massacres in 1819. What did 300 25 years of resolute Tory government do for this country? It reduced the country to a condition of discontent and disaffection compared with which the condition of Ireland now is tranquillity itself. You had a starving people, unjust laws, public discontent, and a seditious spirit. After the peace the laws against seditious meetings had expired, and the Governments of Lord Sidmouth, Lord Castlereagh, and Lord Liverpool had to rely upon the Common Law, and the Manchester meeting took place. You have now successfully reproduced Peterloo, and it is well to examine, therefore, what was the history of Peterloo, and what was the law at the time. The original meeting called at Peterloo was for an unlawful purpose, unquestionably, and it did not take place. The second meeting was for an object ostensibly lawful; but the magistrates and military suppressed that meeting by force, and there was considerable loss of life. But if the Attorney General for Ireland's law is good, there could be no difficulty whatever in justifying the proceedings of the magistrates at that time. However, the innocent Law Advisers of Lord Sidmouth and Lord Castlereagh had never dreamt of the doctrine we hear broached from the Front Bench opposite to-day.
Lord Eldon was the Adviser of the Government. Now, Lord Eldon was a great common lawyer. Lord Brougham said of him that though a most unscrupulous politician, he was a most scrupulous lawyer, and nothing what-could induce him, as men had been induced before and since his days, to pervert the doctrines of the law to serve political purposes. The law was the religion of Lord Eldon, and he was incapable of mis-stating it, and immediately this meeting took place at Manchester, he wrote to Lord Sidmouth, and said—The dispersing of the meeting with force so early can only be justified in considering it as a riot actually commenced, and a rebellious riot.In this there is no trace of the doctrine of the present Attorney General for Ireland. Lord Eldon goes on—When the advertisements for the meeting stated no illegal purpose, whether the meeting would be illegal could only be determined when it took place, and the magistrates could not advertise against it.301 That was the opinion of Lord Eldon. I suppose he knew nothing about the law; it is only the Attorney General for Ireland who knows the law. [Laughter.] Well, what becomes of your doctrine of anticipation of what speakers will say, and what will be the consequences of what they will say? In The Life of Lord Eldon you will find two remarkable letters, which he wrote to his brother, a lawyer not less eminent than himself. In one of these he says—Without doubt the Manchester magistrates must he supported, but they are generally blamed.We know what Lord Eldon meant by that.For my part, if the assembly was only an unlawful assembly that task would be difficult enough in sound reasoning.That means that a mere unlawful assembly should not be dispersed by armed force.If the meeting were an overt act of treason, the justification is complete.You will find that Lord Eldon, throughout the whole of the controversy, maintained that to justify the magistrates and police in suppressing a public meeting by force it must be shown either that the meeting amounted to a riot, or that it was act of treason. Now, as to the alleged right of stopping such a meeting as the Petarloo meeting by the Common Law, let me read this extract from a letter written by Lord Eldon to Sir Walter Scott—In fact, the state of our law is so inapplicable to existing circumstances that we cannot meet the present case. I am as convinced as I am of my existence that if Parliament does not forthwith assemble there is nothing that can be done but to let these meetings take place, reading the Riot Act if any riot takes place.That is the Common Law of England as stated by Lord Eldon. It is and always has been the Common Law of England, and we are here to-day to protest against this perversion of the law by the Attorney General for Ireland.
I cannot weary the House with a protracted legal argument and quotations from a series of cases; but I venture to say that the same doctrine has been maintained ever since in all the books I have ever read. In the case of Hunt, who was tried, the Judge, Mr. Justice Bailey, said—Wherever a meeting, from its general appearance and all the accompanying circum- 302 stances, is calculated to excite terror, alarm, and consternation, it was illegal;and, no doubt, when a meeting was held by armed people, by drilled people, in those days when people came in military array with arms in their hands, they did inspire terror; and I admit at once that that is an unlawful meeting. You do not pretend that any such thing took place at Ennis. An old authority cited on all these cases, Hawkins, says—The meeting of a great" number of people under circumstances of terror which cannot but endanger the public peace,"—that is, the apprehension of riot or circumstances that lead to the immediate apprehension of riot at the meeting itself, and he further says—Meetings where people come together armed and in a warlike manner,"—these are unlawful assemblies. Precisely the same doctrine will be found to be laid down by the Judge in the Chartist case, in 1839, in the cases of "R. v. Vincent," and "R. v. Neale."
I might come down to our own days; I would cite the opinion of two eminent Tory lawyers not 20 years ago. The Tory Party has made progress since then, and the noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill) talks of the Tory democracy; but upon this question, what was the doctrine of Tory lawyers in 1868? It was this—We think that meetings and processions "—not prohibited by Statute—" not amounting to unlawful assemblies, cannot legally be prevented simply because they may lead to breach of the peace. But where the objects of the meetings or processions, and the conduct of the persons assembling together, are such as to inspire terror in Her Majesty's subjects, and to tend to the disturbance of the peace, then the meeting might be dispersed and persons prevented from joining it.This is the Common Law of England, but it is not the law of the Attorney General for Ireland, who lays down that meetings are to be proclaimed, not because there is anything about them that inspires terror, but because there is some anticipation that somebody may say something that somebody may imagine to be dangerous. If you allege that meetings are held with a treasonable purpose, treat them as such; if you apprehend they will lead to riot, treat them as such. But short of that you have no right to suppress them by force. ["Hear, hear!"] I am glad to hear 303 an hon. Gentleman on that side agree with me in commending that doctrine; that was the ground upon which the Clontarf meetings were proclaimed in the time of O'Connell; the Proclamations set forth that the meeting was to be one of men with arms and in military array, and that it designed to affect alterations of the law by demonstrations of physical force. You have not said that of the Ennis meeting; you knew you could not say it.
I say nothing about the celebrated Hyde Park riots and the Phœnix Park meeting; those do not bear upon the right of public meeting, but upon the rights of the Crown iii the Royal Parks; and so I intend to say nothing about those cases. I may say a word in reference to the Salvation Army meetings, as I had to do with them myself. I had been advised, as my Predecessors had been, that if you thought a meeting would lead to disturbance, not on account of the conduct of the people who called the meeting, but on account of the conduct of other people who called an opposition meeting, then you had a right to stop both meetings. That was the opinion of the Government, supported by the Law Officers of the Crown; but the Court of Queen's Bench determined there was no such right.
Well, the Government proclaimed the Ennis meeting; and those who summoned that meeting, the Nationalist Party in Ireland, had the wisdom not to resist the armed forces of the Government. They have been scoffed at; they have been mocked by the Tory Press and by the Unionist Press of England; and I have no doubt that these parties were only too anxious to see Peterloo revived, ["Oh, oh!"] I read in a daily newspaper an expression of regret that only rifles were used at Mitchelstown, and the expression of a hope that machine guns would be sent to Ireland. ["Name, name!"] It was The St. James's Gazette of Saturday. I do not know whether they have been sent or not; but I would advise hon. Members to turn to the comments of The Times upon the meeting, in which everything was done to taunt the Irish people with cowardice—the most detestable and scandalous language that ever degraded the Press of a free country was used for the express purpose of provoking the Irish people to resist the Government. 304 Anyone who will read the Unionist papers of last Monday morning will see that what with machine guns and evictions by Irish landlords, there would be very few of the Irish people left if the policy they advocated were allowed to work itself out. I hope the Irish people will persist in the prudence they have exhibited. ["Oh. oh!" and a laugh] I dare say the hon. Gentleman who laughs does not wish that they should. It would, no doubt, answer his purpose a great deal better that they should spit themselves on the sabres of your Hussars.
But they have much stronger weapons to rely on; they do better to rely upon the public opinion of this country. If there is anything dear to the British people it is the right which this Government have unconstitutionally trampled upon—the right of public meeting; and I invite the Government to try the experiment of their Common Law doctrine upon the British people, who will make short work of them and their doctrine. The Attorney General for Ireland is going to put down meetings, because he anticipates that speeches will be made against the proclamation of the League; that is his definition of an improper purpose.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON) (Liverpool, Walton)
I am sorry I must intervene; but the right hon. Gentleman has not referred to the context of my speech. I distinctly called attention to the fact that speeches were directed, and would be directed, to incite the conspiracy against the enforcement of the law.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The speeches that have never been made rest exclusively upon the imagination of the Attorney General for Ireland, and he can imagine any speech upon the subject exactly as he chooses at any moment and upon any occasion, and as he supposed one speech for a man who had never made it last Friday, he may imagine another speech for the same speaker to-day. There was no limit, except in the imagination of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, to the topics he may suggest, as he claimed for the Government the right to anticipate what speeches may be made. Then I will tell him, if these are improper purposes, they will be pursued by us in 305 every corner of this country; we shall denounce the conduct of the Government in proclaiming the League and in proclaiming the meeting at Ennis. What we shall say as to the conduct of the Government in firing upon the people at Mitchelstown must depend upon the evidence produced in that case.
But, Sir, we have no objection to the Government pursuing this policy; it will enable us to make the people of this country understand exactly what the Unionist policy requires. We have always said that it meant coercion, and coercion of an extreme kind, founded upon more violent doctrines than had ever yet been known or heard of in this country. It is well that the people of this country should understand what is the policy of the Government and of the Liberal Unionists. They were pledged against coercion; they promised equality of treatment for England and Ireland. Do you dare to treat England as you are treating Ireland now? You made the pretence, and we denounced it as a false pretence, that your Coercion Act was intended to put down crime.
What crime have you put down? What crime have you attempted to put down? You have arrested an editor and have proclaimed a lawful meeting; you have fired upon a mob; but what crime have you put down in Ireland? The object of your policy, as we always affirmed it was intended to be, is to stifle opinion, to crush the sympathies and the sentiments of the Irish nation, which you govern against its will. You are determined to exemplify what was so well said by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) when he described the Government of Ireland to be a Government like that of Austria in Italy and like that of Russia in Poland.
You talk of a mandate; you have no mandate for such a policy as this from the people of this country. Is your policy that which was proclaimed by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale at the last Election? Is it the policy that was preached at Birmingham at the last Election? Is my noble Friend going to take the responsibility of advising this policy of proclaiming public meetings? I am not surprised that when the League was 306 proclaimed, he said he did not advise it, and he had told the Government the opinion of this country would not sustain it. Does he think the public opinion of this country will sustain this policy?
My noble Friend says he is not responsible; he washes his hands of the affair. When I was reading those great debates, that storehouse of national eloquence, I came across a singular passage in the great speech by Mr. Fox. He said—Even in the reign of King William, the Marquess of Hartington took the side of liberty. Perhaps he might he laughed at for the superstitious veneration in which he held the names of some great and ancient families in the kingdom. There was no one for which he had more respect than that of Cavendish, and sorry was he to see that in a question of such great constitutional importance not one of that illustrious family, which had so many seats in Parliament, was to be found either in the minority or in the adverse ranks.Well, that is not so on this occasion. My noble Friend, with his great authority, will tell us to-night whether he is in favour of, or against this policy of putting down the right of public meeting; he will let us know where we are, and what title the Unionist still claim to the adjective "Liberal." It is impossible for him to say he will not take any responsibility in this matter, Any man who supports the Government in such a policy as this is responsible for that policy and for all that follows from it. In my opinion, the criminality and the injustice of this policy are only equalled by its folly. The thing you are attempting to do you will not—you cannot—succeed in accomplishing.
Permit me to read to the House one more passage from the speech of Mr. Fox. [An hon. MEMBER: No.] I will say to the hon. Member opposite that it would do him good if he would read a little of the history of his country. He would then be ashamed of the Government he supports. Mr. Fox says—What is the benefit expected to be derived from all this? Are provisions like these likely to alter the minds of men? Are they calculated to prevent communication and stifle the opinions and discontents of a people? If it were a new and an abstract question there might, perhaps, be a difference of opinion upon the subject; but, unfortunately, a book is laid open to us in which we may read in most legible characters the true character and consequences of such a measure—that book is the kingdom of Ireland.307 Now, this was spoken in 1797, just before the emits of 1798—In the year 1794 a Convention Bill was passed in Ireland to prevent meetings of the people. What was the consequence? Ministers "boasted of the success of the measure; they flattered themselves they had succeeded in preventing meetings; but I have now the authority of the Parliament of Ireland for saying that what they had prevented publicly had been done in private; and that ever since the year 1791 meetings of the people had been held which, up to the year 1794, were small and insignificant—small because, up to that time, they had still the power of meeting in public and discussing their grievances openly and without reserve. Up to the year 1794, then, they were small and harmless; but then comes the Convention Bill that forces them into clandestine and secret meetings by midnight.And then he says this—You tell the people that when everything goes well, when they are happy and comfortable, then they may meet freely to recognize their happiness and pass eulogiums on their Government; but that in a moment of war and calamity, of distrust and misconduct, it is not permitted them to meet together, because then instead of eulogising they might think proper to condemn Ministers.That is what you are afraid of. Mr. Fox exclaims—What a mockery is this! What an insult to say that this is preserving to the people the right of Petition—to tell them that they shall have a right to applaud, a right to rejoice, a right to meet when they are happy, but not a right to condemn, not a right to deplore their misfortunes, not a right to suggest a remedy. I hate these insidious modes of undermining and libelling the Constitution of the country.Those are principles and doctrines which, in my opinion, are worth remembering at this moment. The truth is that, as Mr. Fox wisely said, the greater the prevalence of discontent the more necessary and salutary is the remedy which public meetings supply. As I spoke of the Peterloo massacre, I may remind you that the six Acts passed in consequence are names of opprobrium in the history of this country. But you are a great deal worse; you are acting as if you had got the six Acts. When those Acts were passed, and that Government acted upon the authority given them by Parliament, the immediate consequence was the Cato Street Conspiracy.
You are going to proclaim meetings all over Ireland, and the forces of the Crown and the Irish people are to play hide-and-seek and to dodge each other throughout the country. Is that a 308 dignified or a glorious position for a responsible Government? You hold just so much of Ireland as you occupy with your troops and police. Every spot that is evacuated by those forces comes under an influence that is hostile to your rule. [" No, no !"]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
But the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not got all Ulster to himself. I want to know whether this will bring tranquillity to Ireland? The boast—the foolish boast—of the Chief Secretary for Ireland that the Irish people have fled before the very sight of his Coercion Bill—
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND(Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
I never boasted that.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Oh, yes; I heard him myself. He said the tranquillity of Ireland was due to the fear of the Bill. Foolish and vainglorious language.
Ah! Sir, perhaps Cromwell might have given the sort of tranquillity that you wish to Ireland. But then the difficulty is, first of all, that you are not Cromwell; and, in the next place, that if you were, the English people would not support you. I hope that these meetings will continue to be held in all parts of Ireland. Let the Government suppress them if they will. I hope they will not meet with a forcible resistance. But public meetings in England, I tell the Government, shall supply their place. For every meeting that you suppress in Ireland you shall lose a dozen seats in England. We will denounce your Proclamation of the League, which you will not allow to be done in Ireland, at public meetings in England.
An Irish MEMBER: We denounce it in Ireland.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Will you dare to suppress them? Will you dare to suppress the reports of those meetings in the Irish newspapers? I dare say you will. You are getting on fast. You swore by all your gods that you would never touch the right of public meeting. You have done it already. You were not going to interfere with the Press. That will be the next thing. You will go on, as is the case with all Governments which are 309 weak, from violence to violence. The Government have entered upon a course from which there is no issue except defeat; but in spite of your police and Hussars and your Parliamentary majority, you will have to do with antagonists who are stronger than your troops, and who are the masters of your majority. What we invoke against you, and what is more powerful than all, are the sympathies and convictions and the public opinion of the English nation. You say, "Oh, all this is done in the name of the Union." But when the English people are satisfied that the Union can only be maintained by blood, you may depend upon it the Union is in a bad way.
But the Union is not your real object; I have always said so. The Duke of Abercorn was kind enough to state it very clearly. He did not care "about the base pretences of supporting the Union."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Oh, I beg pardon; it is not base—the bare or naked pretence of supporting the Union. The "pretence" of supporting the Union ! That is not what he or his distinguished relative means. What they mean is a far more important thing. It is the rent. That is the real object of the plan of your campaign. I have consulted Lord Spencer on this question, and he tells me that there never was a public meeting about to be held in Ireland that the landlords did not beg for its suppression. Of course they did; always the landlords and generally the magistrates. He would not give in to that policy, and greatly he was attacked for it. You are embarked on the impossible task of exacting impossible rents. The public opinion of Ireland is against you; and that is why you are determined to put down public opinion in Ireland. What has become of your boasts? Why, all your boasts have vanished. You were going to stop evictions; but I take up the newspaper and I read that evictions are going on every day. What is the meaning of that? We have had no explanation from the Government. Then I saw a speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, delivered somewhere in the North. He said it was all 310 right now, and in three months they would have it all their own way. He is in. The secrets of the Government. He knew what was going to be done at Ennis. Perhaps he knew what was going to be done at Mitchelstown. He went down to tell the people that the Irish landlords would have it all their own way in three months. But do not let him be too sure. The Chief Secretary for Ireland the other day—I read it with great regret—used the word "retribution." [Opposition cheers.] Yes, this firing on the people was the "retribution" in the opinion of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I think it is a most unwise, a most unsafe, and a most unstatesmanlike word to employ; but I have no doubt it justly expressed the policy, the principle, and the sentiment of the Government upon this subject. Well, you may suppress meetings; you may charge with your Hussars; but there is a force stronger than either—a force which is the master of Governments—a force to which Parliamentary majorities must succumb. It is to this force that we appeal. It is a force which speaks with a voice which must and which will be heard. And, in my opinion, if there is one lesson which the history of politics teaches more clearly than another it is this—that a cause which cannot bear to be discussed is already lost.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Before, Sir, I come to the main substance of the astonishing speech we have just heard—a speech which I confess surprised me almost more by the total absence of the ordinary good taste which distinguishes Ministerial speeches in this House, as by the extraordinary hollowness of the arguments advanced—I will relieve the right hon. Gentleman's mind upon two questions which he asked me in the earlier part of his remarks. He has asked whether I will lay upon the Table of the House or communicate to the House the special instructions given to the police in dealing with public meetings. So far as I know, Sir, the instructions under which the police are now acting in Ireland are precisely the instructions under which they acted when the right hon. Gentleman himself, as Home Secretary, was largely responsible for the government of that country. The second point on which he desired to be reassured related to Sir 311 Redvers Buller. The right hon. Gentleman, it appears, saw in the morning newspapers a statement to the effect that Sir Redvers Buller was about to give up his appointment, and with characteristic charity he jumped to the conclusion that Sir Redvers Buller was leaving his appointment because he differed from the policy of Her Majesty's Government. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman, at least, suggested that. Now, I think it is extremely in expedient to drag into debates in this House the opinions of permanent officials; and I am not going further to discuss Sir Redvers Buller's opinions more than to say this—that I know no man who would hesitate less to leave the service of any Government of whose policy he disapproved. Sir, I have acted during the whole lime I have been in Office in absolute and entire harmony with Sir Redvers Buller on every single point of administration that has come up for discussion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
He has not resigned; but, as the House has long known, his appointment was a temporary one; and I regret to say that he desires to return to his duties in another office under the Crown—[Ironical laughter]—but, as I have said so much, let me add this—that if hon. Gentlemen suppose that Sir Redvers Buller's retirement from the office of Permanent Under Secretary in Ireland is due, in the slightest measure or degree, to any difference of opinion between himself and me, the supposition is entirely and absolutely baseless; and I give it the most unqualified contradiction. I now proceed to the main substance—if I may call it substance—at all events to the main; part of the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered. He told us that we had had the impudence to describe the doctrines of Common Law as justifying the action of the Government. I will pledge myself, in the course of a few minutes, to convince the House as to which quarter of the House and to which individual in the House: the term impudence is most properly to be applied. The right hon. Gentleman has given us a very long and learned dissertation on the principles of law. [An Irish MEMBER: You need it.] The 312 right hon. Gentleman went back chiefly to the year 1795, and also to other precedents before that. I do not think, as far as I can recollect, that he condescended to quote any precedent less than 80 or 100 years old.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not know at what period of the right hon. Gentleman's career he learnt his law. I believe that is a subject on which biographers of the right hon. Gentleman have had many searchings of heart. At all events, about one fact there can be no doubt, I presume. It is not since 1881 that the right hon. Gentleman learnt his law. It was in the earlier stages of his distinguished career that the right hon. Gentleman devoted himself to those legal studies the fruits of which he has given to the House this evening. I confess that I was surprised while the right hon. Gentleman was dealing with all these precedents, and showering upon us quotations from Fox and Eldon, that he did not go to more recent experience and deal with precedents which are in the recollection of many hon. Gentlemen opposite. Will it be believed that under the Common Law powers which we have used in this case, Mr. Forster, the right hon. Gentleman himself, and the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, so far as my researches go, proclaimed no fewer than 130 meetings? The right hon. Gentleman says that we have based our action—that was his phrase—on the example of the worst of men in the worst of times. The times from which we have drawn our precedents are the last 10 years; those, I suppose, are the worst of times. When I look for the worst of men, where am I to find them, except on that Bench where still sit the relics of that Ministry? Sir, the right hon. Gentleman said that our ancestors before they proclaimed meetings waited until overt acts were committed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Of course, I do not wish to press the right hon. Gentleman on any point which he disputes, and as to any phrase which, he says he did not use; but I certainly caught in the course of the right hon. Gentleman's speech the words "overt act" recurring. Unless they had some relation to the 313 argument I alluded to just now, I do not see in what connection the right hon. Gentleman introduced the phrase.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The words "overt acts," no doubt, were used in my speech; but the words were quoted from Mr. Erskine. I do not think I used them myself at all. [Mr. A. T. BALFOUR: Hear, hear!] They occurred in a quotation from Mr. Erskine, and what I said, or what I intended to say, was this—it must either mean an act of riot at the meeting, or an act perpetuated at the meeting which made disturbance of the peace at that meeting probable and imminent, rather than consequential.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Now, Sir, I will deal with the method upon which the right hon. Gentleman's Government applied that principle in a few moments. In that connection I should like to road to the House the views of the right hon. Gentleman, expressed in 1883, on the subject of public meeting—Public meetings," said the right hon. Gentleman, "might no doubt be considered as a source of light; but they ought to have some regard to the atmosphere into which the light was carried: and it would be the height of recklessness to carry a light in the form of a naked candle into a chamber filled with explosive material.I want to know what meaning is to be put upon these words if they do not mean that the general condition of the district and the country in which the meeting is held are a ground for proclaiming it? If the right hon. Gentleman, however, is not satisfied with that quotation, I will give him another. The right hon. Gentleman has been loud in his announcements that we dare not deal with England as we dealt with Ireland. I take the view that the condition of Ireland renders different treatment necessary. Does the right hon. Gentleman dissent from that view? Apparently he does. He did not dissent from it six years ago. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] On June 15, 1882, the right hon. Gentleman said—Everybody knew that the feeling of the community in England was on the side of the law, and therefore meetings might be held without danger in this country which would be altogether unsafe under the present condition of Ireland. It was upon that ground that meetings had been prohibited within the last two years in Ireland, and upon that ground alone."—(3 Hansard,  1290.)I have heard the right hon. Gentleman 314 use an expression that he thought the quotation I have just given to the House referred to what was done under the Crimes Act of 1882. The right hon. Gentleman was premature. The last sentence I have read—It was upon that ground that meetings had been prohibited within the last two years in Ireland, and upon that ground alone "—shows conclusively that the action of his Government with which at that time he was concerned to defend was taken, not under the law of 1882, but under the Common Law.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
All. They were not proclaimed under the Statute of 1882. I will take up that interruption. The right hon. Gentleman has drawn, or has attempted to draw, a wide distinction between the action of the Government subsequent to 1882, when they had Statutory powers, and their action before 1882, when, as I have said, they proclaimed no fewer than 180 meetings under the Common Law. I say, Sir, that no such distinction can be drawn. The right hon. Gentleman appears now to hold that the Government, in taking Statutory powers in 1882, meant to deal with public meetings on a different principle, and not merely under a different procedure, from that used before. That view is directly contradicted by the statements made by the Government of that day, including the right hon. Gentleman himself and the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan) when they were dealing with the clause in the Act of 1882 under which they took those exceptional Statutory powers. What did the right hon. Gentleman say with regard to this clause under which he thinks a distinction can be drawn between actions subsequent to 1882 and actions before that date. He said—As regarded the first part of the clause, it was only intended to confirm and sanction what had been done and what was being done. With regard to the second part, it was intended only to give a more summary and complete power of stopping public meetings. It must, therefore, not be supposed that now, for the first time, the stoppage of public meetings was suggested."—[Ibid 1,321.)I may be wrong, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will be very careful in 315 future as to how he scatters epithets about. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that quotation insufficient I will give him another. This quotation is from a speech of the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow, who said—It (the clause) did not create a power, but gave a statutory power, which, under the clause, in certain cases, would replace the power that existed, and which, under present conditions, might lead to a collision that all would deplore.So that the solo ground on which the Government of that day justified themselves in asking for those powers was not that the powers themselves did not exist, but that it was expedient to supply the Executive with an easier and more merciful method of exercising those powers. Therefore every single precedent set by Lord Spencer under the Act of 1882 is a precedent applicable to this case, so far as policy is concerned. I do not know that I need labour that point; but, if necessary, I can multiply quotations. But there can be no doubt whatever that the account I have given of the Act of 1882 is right; and in order that I may have support in that view from all quarters of the House, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to refer to a speech made by the hon. Member for West Belfast. The hon. Member for West Belfast, in the debates upon the Bill of 1882, made a violent attack against the powers taken under the clause I have alluded to, and the sole ground for that attack was that the powers in the hands of the Executive for prohibiting public meetings needed no strengthening, and that therefore the Government were asking for superfluous and unnecessary powers when they asked for the powers given them by this clause. What the hon. Gentleman then said was that the powers already by Common Law in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant were ample for the preservation of law and order. Now, I take it I have shown clearly—first, that the Common Law powers that we claim were supposed to exist by the right hon. Gentleman himself six years ago, and that they were largely, I might say almost extravagantly, used in Mr. Forster's time under the direction of the right hon. Gentleman; and, therefore, the only possible question that can now arise is, not whether we have been legal 316 in our action, but whether we have been politic—whether, in other words, the powers which we undoubtedly possess under the Common Law are powers which we ought legitimately to have exercised in this particular case. The right hon. Gentleman appears to suppose that the Government is not justified in concluding, until there is absolute proof, that a meeting will turn out to be illegal. But there never can be proof of that. If you required proof of it you would have to obtain an Executive endowed with absolute foreknowledge. There must he an element of conjecture in these things; and, moreover, you cannot judge, and never have been able to judge, solely by the avowed objects of a meeting. I admitted the other day, and I repeat it now, that the avowed objects of this particular meeting were innocent. They were innocent so far as the placard calling it is any indication. But if we are to assume that merely by issuing an innocent placard the Common Law is rendered impotent, it is clear that the powers of the Common Law on which the right hon. Gentleman relied when he was in Office would be perfectly useless; and the fact that the avowed objects were innocent, and that you cannot tell to a certainty what the action of the speakers would be, is not a sufficient ground why the Executive should abstain from using the powers confided to them. Then on what ought the policy in the matter of proclamation to rest? Sir, in my opinion, one of the most important elements to take into account in deciding this question of policy is the condition of the district in which the meeting is to be held. And in saying that I am only repeating textually what has been held over and over again by Lord Spencer and Mr. Forster, and what has been brought forward over and over again as a justification of the policy of both those Gentlemen. Now, what is the state of Clare? Has the right hon. Gentleman who denounces us to-day for interfering with freedom of speech looked into the condition of crime in Clare? I will not weary the House by a narration of the recent statistics of agrarian crime under which the county has suffered, ending by the shocking crime of which I gave telegraphic information this afternoon; but I may inform the House, without trying to prejudice their minds by harrowing 317 details, and relying on the bare figures, that while Clare has only one-thirtieth of the rural population of Ireland, one-sixth of the agrarian crime has been committed within its borders. Its population is one-thirtieth of the population of Ireland; its crime is one-sixth of the crime of Ireland, and its hateful pre-eminence in crime is not confined simply to agrarian crimes, for I find that one-sixteenth of the total non-agrarian crime of Ireland has been committed in that county. Now, that alone, in my opinion, leaving out of account the details of the outrages recently committed, is enough to show that the Government ought to regard with the gravest misgivings the calling together of any large meeting of an excited peasantry at a time when they know exciting speeches are likely to be delivered. Was there any ground for supposing that exciting speeches would be delivered? Who were the speakers? I do not, of course, allude to the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. P. Stanhope), whose presence there we may assume to have been principally ornamental; but the operative speakers, the important speakers, were the hon. Member for East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien), and the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). Have the Government any ground for supposing that the speeches of those two Gentlemen would not be likely to lead to a breach of the public peace? Unfortunately, they had the most perfect ground for believing the contrary, and they conjectured, as it turned out truly, what were the kind of speeches they were likely to deliver on this occasion. But the kind of speaker was not the only thing. Did the meeting, so far as it may be said to have come off, bear out the conjectures which the Government had formed? There are two principal methods of judging of a meeting. One is the kind of preparation by which a meeting is ushered in, the other is the actual speeches delivered. Now, there cannot be a doubt that placards and mottoes of an inflammatory kind were used. For instance, I find that one of the mottoes was this—" Remember Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien." They are, as hon. Gentlemen know, the criminals whom it is the fashion in Ireland to describe as the Manchester martyrs; and it is a curious fact that the only meeting which Lord Spencer proclaimed under Common Law 318 powers—at the time when he had Statutory powers, but did not use them—was a meeting convened to celebrate the memory of those criminals. Au other of those mottoes was, "Hurrah for the women of Bodyke, who made such a glorious fight." Now, Sir, what was the glorious fight made by the women of Bodyke? What happened at Bodyke was that the men, with admirable discretion, in certain cases put forward the women to throw boiling water and vitriol on the officers of the law—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
And it can only have been to stimulate the inhabitants of the district to similar acts of atrocity that mottoes of that description were distributed. There was another placard, which I believe wag torn down by the police, and consisted of a design showing a British soldier impaled on the pike of an Irish peasant, with the words—"Assemble in your thousands at Ballycoree, our Fontenoy." As the House knows, in the readings of English history popular in Ireland Fontenoy is looked upon as an Irish victory over English soldiers. Can anything be conceived more calculated to inflame the mind of an excited peasantry, more indicative of the tone and the temper in which the meeting was called, than placards of the kind I have just read. And what was the character of the actual speeches made? I maintain that the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo is alone sufficient to show that we were justified in the course we took. What did the hon. Member for East Mayo say? He said—One of the reasons why we asked you to assemble here to-day was this—we wanted to point out to you that men who like O'Callaghan's tenants at Bodyke faced the enemy and suffered in the cause were fighting the battle, not only of themselves, but of every tenant in Clare.Now I say, and I am sure the House will agree, that that sentence by itself was sufficient to excite every tenant in Clare to defy the law, and to commit outrages after the manner of the unhappy tenantry at Bodyke. The hon. Gentleman went on to say—" We will hold meetings in Clare, and we will put down land-grabbing in Clare." No method of putting down land-grabbing in Clare or elsewhere has yet been sug- 319 gested other than intimidation and outrage, and the man who gets up in Clare and says—"While I live there shall be no land-grabbing in Clare," says, in effect—and who doubts that he says in effect?—" So long as I live I will take care, by intimidation or by outrage, that land-grabbing shall not exist."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say that the words themselves or my interpretation is false?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Very well; that is a matter which I entirely leave to the House. If the hon. Gentleman can show to the satisfaction of the House that any other efficient means of stopping land-grabbing exists than the two means I have mentioned I will, of course, not press that point upon the attention of the House. I may quote some observations which the hon. Member made, not on the day of the meeting, but on the day before. What did the hon. Member say? Speaking of the Government, he said—I will tell you the fear that is in the heart of these men; they fear, and I hope, that the Coercion Act has no terrors for the men of Clare, and when the proclamation of the League goes forth in Clare the League will continue to live in spite of the proclamation.That, no doubt, accurately represents the wishes of the hon. Gentleman, but I say that such a speech made at Clare on the day before the meeting is a perfectly sufficient proof that one of the objects that the hon. Gentleman had in view in holding that meeting was to defeat the law of the land. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT here made some remark which was inaudible in the gallery.] The right hon. Gentleman really appears to suppose that there is some analogy between a Corn Law meeting and a meeting which is by law an illegal meeting.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well, perhaps I misheard communications going on between the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend—
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will tell him what passed. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was a meeting against the law of the land, and I said that in old days a Corn Law meet- 320 ing was a meeting against the law of the land.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Surely the right hon. Gentleman, with his legal acumen, can see a distinction between a meeting which is called together to produce legislation for altering the law of the land and a meeting which is called together to defeat the operation of the law actually in existence. The hon. Member for East Mayo has constantly denounced what he describes as outrage—and, I believe, sincerely. We do not agree as to what outrage means, because the hon. Gentleman never includes what I regard as the very worst form of outrage—namely, intimidation. But when the hon. Member speaks at a meeting like the meeting at Ennis, and says that while he lives land-grabbing shall be put down, does he not know that he is doing all that in him lies, unconsciously, no doubt, and unwittingly, to promote the monstrous crime of the kind of which I gave an account to the House to-day, in which there was a conspiracy to murder a man for no other reason whatever than that he took an evicted farm, and as a consequence of which three policemen, who were doing their duty in protecting the victim of the intended outrage, were injured, and one of them was killed? Is not that a comment on the freedom of speech of which the right hon. Gentleman has lauded?
§ MR. DILLON
I rise to Order. I think the right hon. Gentleman is pressing his argument beyond what is just in seeming to intimate that this crime is the comment upon what he calls freedom of speech, when he ought to remember that he denied freedom of speech to me at Clare.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member says that I denied him freedom of speech at Clare. I will not argue that point now, but the contention of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. P. Stanhope) was that the hon. Gentleman made all the speeches that he intended to make, and that in effect nothing was done whatever to destroy that freedom of speech so dear to the heart of the right hon. Gentleman. Is it not absurd to describe meetings of this kind as meetings in favour of free discussion? It is a cardinal principle of English policy that you should submit to the propagation of 321 error rather than strangle truth, and it is because I hold that proposition that I claim to be as sincerely the friend of freedom of speech as any man in this House. But, Sir, it is not freedom of speech; it is a monstrous perversion of terms to describe as freedom of speech a meeting called together for the purpose of defeating the law and promoting intimidation and outrage.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I get it from the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo, in which he said that he had objects which practically could only be produced by intimidation. Possibly the hon. Gentleman does not consider that outrage. I do. And I say distinctly that in the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo there was an incitement to the tenants of Clare to behave as the tenants of Bodyke have behaved. It is monstrous to describe the action of the Government as an interference with the freedom of speech, or to compare a meeting of this kind with a meeting intended to propagate by fair argument and fair discussion the reform of the law. It is nothing of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that this Government has proved itself to be anxious to interfere with meetings. I have told the House that, under the Common Law powers of Mr. Forster, 130 meetings were suppressed, including every form of meeting. Subsequent to the resignation of Mr. Forster, and the resignation of Lord Cowper, Lord Spencer, for reasons which I have not been able to discover, used the Common Law powers to proclaim a meeting; but, as a rule, he acted under those statutory powers, which were avowedly intended not to increase the scope of the law, but merely to improve its machinery. How many meetings Lord Spencer under those statutory powers proclaimed I am not aware; but it was a very large number.
§ MR. PARNELL
Were those 130 meetings of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks meetings called for the purpose of listening to speeches, or were they assemblies of people which were proclaimed as illegal in consequence of sales of cattle at evictions?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
They were of every kind. I carefully stated to the House that this was the number of times, as far as my researches had gone, 322 in which these Common Law powers, which have been denied, were used. The hon. Member was not in the House during the learned disquisition of the right hon. Gentleman, or he would have seen the point of my remarks. These Common Law powers, the existence of which Mr. Fox and Lord Eldon were called into Court to disprove, were exercised 130 times by Mr. Forster.
§ MR. PARNELL
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many meetings, in the ordinary sense of the word, called for public discussion and to listen to public speeches were so proclaimed?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have found about 30; there may be more under Mr. Forster; and I would note, as the hon. Gentleman has reminded me of it, that if you examine the grounds, as I have done, on which Mr. Forster proclaimed the meetings, you will find that, as far as evidence was officially stated, they were incomparably weaker than the grounds on which we have thought fit and right to exercise the powers. Now, compare the action of the present Government with the action of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E Gladstone) was the head. I make out that since this Government came into Office 317 meetings have been permitted. Twelve were prohibited, and of these 12 only eight were prohibited by the action of the Executive Government, and of these eight some were prohibited simply because they would lead to collisions between hostile meetings of different religious denominations. Surely those figures may be taken to heart by any critic who has the hardihood to assert that we desire to interfere with public meetings and wish to stifle the voice of the Irish people. I really do not think it is necessary for me to go further into this question. I have shown, and I think conclusively, that if ground ever existed for proclaiming a public meeting under the Common Law, that ground exists now. I have shown that, by the constant and reiterated practice of right hon. Gentlemen who criticize us, that Common Law right does exist; and I have shown that Clare, even in disturbed Ireland, is exceptionally disturbed. I have shown that immediately after the meeting a crime has been committed of the very kind which that meeting was calculated to produce; and if I have not 323 been able to convince the House and the country that in proclaiming this meeting we have been influenced by a desire simply and solely to limit outrage and intimidation, and with no desire whatever to limit true freedom of speech and discussion, however hostile and unfavourable to ourselves, it will be difficult to imagine by what kind of argument conviction in such cases can be produced. I am reminded by the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) that I have omitted to answer the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman as to why, as the law stands, evictions are still going on. I thought it would be an insult to the right hon. Gentleman to answer it. It depends not upon the Executive, but on the interpretation of a Statute. I do not wish to flatter the right hon. Gentleman in any way; but I believe he is as well qualified to interpret the Statute if he only devotes his mind to it as I am, and for that reason alone I fore bore to answer the right hon. Gentleman. But I am bound to say one or two words upon a question which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby only touched upon parenthetically, but which he contrived to misrepresent in the most astonishing manner. The right hon. Gentleman never allows us to forget that he once signed himself "Historicus." He never now makes a speech in this House without ladling out the contents of his historical note-book, and dragging into his argument every historical event, whether remotely or not remotely connected with the subject, which he thinks can point a dart against the Government. He has chosen to draw a parallel between the unhappy and deplorable events at Mitchelstown and the massacre of Peterloo. I am not going into a discussion of Peterloo; but this, at any rate, is quite certain about Peterloo—that the Yeomanry on that occasion were not acting in self-defence. Nothing, however, can be more certain than that the whole action of the police at Mitchelstown was not only under the most tremendous provocation, but absolutely in self-defence. ["No, no!"] I will tell the House the leading facts. In the first place, the meeting was held in defiance of the law; it was held to celebrate the defiance of the law. [" No !"] There can be no doubt that what I say is true. Mitchelstown is a remote and difficult place to get at from a railway 324 station, and not at all a likely place to be chosen, under ordinary circumstances, by errant Members of Parliament in search of an audience. But Mitchelstown on that particular day was occupied with a very important legal transaction—namely, the trial of the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien); and it will hardly be denied, even by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), that the public meeting had some reference and relation to that trial.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member appears to think that the fact that it occurred two hours after the trial shows that it had no connection with the trial. He ought to have read the speech of his hon. Colleague the Member for East Mayo, which was interrupted by the unhappy series of occurrences now familiar to the House. The hon. Member said—The day is nearly over when men will act towards the people of this country as these men have acted to-day in the Court House at Mitchelstown.
§ MR. DILLON
I should like to know where that report comes from. That is a specimen of the work of the Government reporter. It is not accurate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well, although not an unimportant consideration, it is not vital to the case, and I will not press this any further; for it is clear, on the very face of the proceedings, that the meeting had relation to the proceedings in the Court House. I will not further consider the legality or illegality of the meeting; but I will deal with the second point—namely, that the police, in taking steps to have the speeches reported at this meeting, were not only acting within their undoubted right, but that they would have been guilty of gross neglect of duty had they failed to do so. The third point is that unless they brought up their reporter from the outside of the crowd to a more favourable position it would be impossible for the Government shorthand-writer to adequately hear the speeches. It would be impossible to report the speeches correctly on the outside of a 325 large and excited crowd; and if any evidence of this is required, it is afforded by the fact that evenThe Freeman's Journalreporter, who, no doubt, was placed in a favourable place and treated with every consideration, was not—if I rightly understand his recent interruption—so fortunate as to correctly report the words of the hon. Member for East Mayo. There can be no manner of doubt that the police, in trying to do their bounden duty, and place their reporter in a proper place, did so without any undue violence, or without any violence at all. Someone who was said to be the hon. Member for Tipperary—and this has not been denied—shouted out that the crowd were to "close their ranks" and not let the police in. The order was rigorously obeyed. Showers of stones were thrown at the police, and they were struck with blackthorns before they drew their batons. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: No, no!] It was not until they were thrown into disorder and routed by a charge of the men on horseback, who, according to the account in The Freeman's Journal, might be described as being in military array—it was not until they were knocked down, wounded, and forced to fly for their lives—until the majority of them took refuge in the barrack, which was attacked and the door broken, that it was found absolutely necessary to resort to firearms—firstly, for the purpose of protecting the barracks; and, secondly, for the purpose of protecting the unhappy police stragglers who were still left outside. ["No, no!" and "Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The right hon. Gentleman is in possession. The hon. Member will have an opportunity of addressing the House later on.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I know the hon. Gentleman is going to address the House, and he will then be able to make any explanation he desires. I hope he will allow me to give my account of the matter. What was the character of the combat which ended thus disastrously to the police, and, in the end, to the crowd? Some hon. Members, on Saturday last, chose to cast doubt on my statements because they came from official sources, and therefore came, as they were pleased to say, from a tainted source.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
But I venture to say that anyone who reads impartially the account given inThe Freeman's Journalcannot be left in any doubt of the true character of this combat. The majority of the House may not have seen The Freeman's Journal. I will read a short extract from the account in that journal, which will leave no doubt whatever of the true character of what occurred. The report inThe Freeman's Journalactually exults in the horrible details—A volley of stones, thrown from a distance, comes in among the police. One man lifts up his head and shows a mouthful of blood. With a simultaneous movement the 50 police, the Resident Magistrate, County Inspector, officers and men, turn their hacks and run for their lives down the hill. The crowd give a wild exulting cheer, and burst after them. The police rushed out of the square to the right and up to their barracks, 50 yards distant, in which they all sought refuge. The crowd kicked at least a dozen police helmets before them like footballs. One poor creature in uniform appeared to be injured internally. His gallant comrades deserted him. He was left to crawl alone to the barracks, which he did under a shower of stones and blows.The policeman who, in the exercise of his duty, was treated in this horrible and dastardly fashion, has, by the testimony he has given us, shown that he was only saved from immediate death by the fire from the barracks. The fire from the barracks had two objects—it had, first, the object of protecting the police who had sought refuge within the barracks; and, secondly, of protecting those few scattered members of the force who were, like that unhappy man, crawling wounded to the barracks. It was not a random fire—it was not the fire of men in a panic, or of men who had lost all self-control owing to the treatment they had received, natural, in my opinion, as such absence of self-control would have been. It was the deliberate fire of men acting under the orders of their officer, who instructed them to fire only at those portions of the mob attacking the barracks, and who did their best to direct their fire at those who were guilty of this assault. As the right hon. Gentleman opposite must be aware, on occasions such as this, when you are dealing with police or soldiers, you cannot expect absolute accuracy of aim; and it is impossible to say, if the order to fire is once given, who will be the victims. That, no doubt, is a conclusive reason for de- 327 ferring to the last dread necessity the act of firing. It has never been a reason, and, if I have my way, it never will be a reason, for not firing when self-defence and the authority of the law actually require it. [Ironical cheers.] I am amazed at the right hon. Gentleman who was Home Secretary, who was responsible for five years for the peace of the community, that he, of all Members of this House, should cheer that sentence ironically. Now, that I believe to be an accurate account of what took place on this occasion. [Cries of "No !"] If that account be accurate, and be it remembered that the most tragical and horrible part of it was taken, not from official reports, but from The Freeman's Journal—if that account be accurate, or anything like accurate, the conduct of the police stands out absolutely justifiable; and however much we may deplore—and none deplores more than I do—the fatal issues of last Friday's struggle, I am of opinion, looking at the matter in the most impartial spirit, that the police were in no way to blame, and that no responsibility rests upon anyone except upon those who convened the meeting under circumstances which they knew would lead to excitement, and which might lead to outrage. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, in conclusion, to make some reply to the candid criticism which he has made on the action of the Government. He has told us that our motives are simply to enable landlords to collect rents. How he could have used that expression in the face of the Land Bill which we have just passed I am utterly unable to say. I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman really looks with the satisfaction with which he appears to look upon the scenes which are now being enacted in Ireland? He and his friends and allies below the Gangway are always telling us and the country that their day is about to come—that victory is assured to them. Be it a few months sooner, or be it a few months later, they say that the crisis can have but one end. If that is so, surely the right hon. Gentleman might exercise a little patience, and not try to press on the inevitable hour of his triumph by means which he deplores in set terms, but greatly, though unwittingly, encourages by his action. The words ever upon the right hon. Gentleman's lips are liberty, jus- 328 tice, freedom of speech; but the actual weapons which, so far as I can observe, are used in this Irish contest are obstruction in this House, outside this House resistance to the law, violence, and intimidation, which is, in my opinion, worse than violence. When I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to inflame further the passions of an already excited people, and not to drive them on to fatal resistance to the law, I do not do so because I entertain the slightest idea that the cause of liberty, founded upon order, which was once dear to both Parties in this House, of which the right hon. Gentleman was himself at one time a defender, hut which appears now to have lapsed to the guardianship of only one of the great political Parties—I do not appeal to him in that cause, because I know I should appeal in vain. But surely the right hon. Gentleman might consider the position of the unhappy Irish peasants, of the policemen—indeed, of every class in the community in Ireland, whose lives and whose property are the counters with which the right hon. Gentleman plays his political game. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton, in the speech he made three nights ago, said that every eviction made, every meeting suppressed, was an additional nail in the coffin of the Tory Government. The inference is plain—that those who desire above all other ends to cause a Tory Government to fall do all they can to produce these evictions and to stimulate these disorders. The course which the Government should pursue appears to me to be perfectly plain. We do not waver from the policy which we have all along laid down. We believe that by a firm administration of the law, and by a not less firm determination to do all that we can to remove every social difficulty which foments the historic discontent of Ireland—we believe that by that policy, carried to its legitimate conclusion, we shall ultimately be able to make one united people of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom. We know that we shall have no assistance in that great task from hon. Gentlemen opposite. We know that the very tools with which they work are the social discontent of the Irish tenants. We know, therefore, that everything we do to mitigate that discontent, and to alleviate—I will not say the injustices, for there are none—the 329 causes of discontent which, still rankle in that country—will be met by hon. Gentlemen opposite with, the most unmitigated hostility. In spite of that conviction, we shall pursue, undismayed by their criticism and unmoved by their attacks, to the best of our ability, the policy which we believe to be founded upon justice, and which, in the long run, must end in the conciliation of the great community with whom we desire to live in peace and amity.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
It is perfectly true that I said, at the Rotunda in Dublin, that every eviction and every meeting suppressed was a nail in the coffin of the Tory Government; but it by no means followed I desired there should be evictions or suppressions of meetings. I believed that the Coercion Act was a nail in the coffin of the Tory Government; and I did my best by my votes to prevent the passing of the Coercion Act. The right hon. Gentleman has singularly failed in answering the eloquent and weighty Constitutional speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. What has been his answer? Simply personal abuse and a specious tu quoque. I am not concerned with what the right hon. Member for Derby did when he was Home Secretary; and I do not think that the Chief Secretary for Ireland is a fitting person to explain what did take place, or that we should place great, credit on what he says. At the same time, admitting, for the sake of argument, the Chief Secretary is right in his statement regarding the action of the right hon. Member for Derby, that only proves that his principles are better than his practice. In regard to the law, my right hon. Friend has laid down what the law is, and has cited great lights of the law in past days; and the Chief Secretary has not even attempted to controvert the dicta of these eminent lawyers. The right hon. Member for Derby has said he would not enter into the case of the Mitchelstown meeting, as it was sub judice. I confess I have not the sanguine views of my right hon. Friend, and I was somewhat surprised he said that, because we know that in reality the matter is not in any sense of the word sub judice. It is true that a Coroner's inquest is going to take place; but we had a Coroner's inquest into the death of Hanlon, in which the 330 verdict of the jury declared the Chief Superintendent of Police guilty of murder; and what did the Government do? They refused to prosecute; and it appears that so strange is the law in Ireland, or the administration of the law, that when the Government refused to prosecute in a case like this no other person can prosecute. We have also seen Captain Plunkett sent down to inquire into the matter; but I do not think any inquiry on the part of Captain Plunkett will satisfy anyone on this side of the House. But the Chief Secretary for Ireland has not sheltered himself under the plea that this matter is sub judice. He has boldly discussed this question of the meeting, and he has stated what, in his belief, really took place. Now, if the right hon. Gentleman had been there, and then came here and told us what he had seen himself, I should have credited it; but I want to know from whom he received his information? There was only the Chief Inspector there and the Resident Magistrates, Captain Seagrave and Mr. Eaton, so that he must have got his information from these officials, who were the only persons, in fact, from whom he could have got it. But they are the parties criminated. We cannot accept their statement of what took place. Now, Sir, I was there. I was in a position which enabled me to see very clearly what took place. I am not a novice in these matters. I have been in a great many emeutes on the Continent. I have been a reporter in some cases, and I have not only been in a position to see, but I have also been in the habit of chronicling what I did see. I will state to the House what really did take place. The right hon. Gentleman commenced by saying that the meeting was a disorderly meeting, because it had been called in order to protest against the action of the Government in regard to the hon. Member for North-East Cork. That is not precisely correct. It may have been intended to make a demonstration when the hon. Gentleman intended to go there; but the right hon. Gentleman will remember that the hon. Member for North-East Cork had announced his intention not to go there, and it was fully known he was not going there. Under these circumstances my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo announced his intention of going to see 331 what took place and comforting these people, and to tell them they had friends not only in Ireland but in England. When my hon. Friend said that I also stated I intended to go; and the hon. Member for Northwich and the hon. Member for Merionethshire also said they intended to go. We went down; and the train arrived at Fermoy. This is about 15 miles from Mitchelstown, and when we were within a mile of the latter place we were met by a procession with flags and trumpets, and a certain crowd accompanying it. Most stringent orders had been given to these people—I was shown the orders, which I can also show to the right hon. Gentleman—to obey absolutely their leaders; not to throw any stones or make any disturbance, but simply to demonstrate, and do nothing more. We entered the town with this procession, and pulled up in the market place. Mitchelstown is a very small provincial town, with very wide streets, and a few of them. In the midst of the town there is this market place, which is, perhaps, as large as Trafalgar Square. The market place slopes, and at the top is the main street of the village, and I ask the House to remember this—there are two police barracks—one is the permanent police station, a little way beyond the lower corner of the market place on the right hand side, and the other is a temporary police station used by the police on this occasion, and faces the market place. When we arrived there we got into a brake which formed one portion of the procession. This brake was mainly tenanted by priests, the Mayors of Cork and Clonmel, and a few other gentlemen. Mr. M'Carthy, a parish priest of the neighbourhood, was appointed chairman, and the crowd naturally formed round. My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo said to me—"Let us cut this as short as possible; they will send the police and military into the town. They will attempt something, and something may occur if we go on long. I suggest that we say a few words and ask the people to disperse." I at once assented. My hon. Friend then got up on the front side of the brake to say a few words, and at that time, or perhaps a minute before, I saw a body of police drawn up in a line in the lower part of the market place. They had a reporter with them, 332 and they pushed their way to within a short distance of the platform. The Chief Secretary for Ireland said the police were at such a distance that they could not hear; but the fact is, I do not think they were at a greater distance than I am at this moment from the reporters in the Gallery. There is not the slightest doubt they could hear. The right hon. Gentleman says he could not hear because the reporter ofThe Freeman's Journalcould not hear, although he was in the brake. That proves nothing, because if a man could not hear in the brake why should this reporter want to come nearer? The fact is he could have heard very well. The police pushed their way to within a short distance from the brake; but they could get no further, the people were so tightly packed. I will give an instance of this. When we came there we got out of our carriage and we were all going on to the brake, which was, I suppose, five yards away. I was delayed a moment, and I was at least two minutes trying to get through these five yards, the people being so crowded that it was almost impossible to push through them. How, then, was it possible for the police, three abreast, without great violence, to push their way through such a dense mass as this? The Chief Secretary for Ireland says that the hon. Member for East Tipperary said—"Close your ranks against the police." I certainly did not hear it said. He may have said it; but I can assure the House of this, that there was the greatest anxiety on the part of those on the brake to get the reporter there. Someone may have said—" Close your ranks against the police," because they could not get farther; but I say distinctly there was an anxiety on the part of those in the brake that the reporter should get on to the brake. We had not the slightest objection; we were not ashamed of what we were going to say. We were not afraid, and we had not the slightest objection to the reporter being present; but the fact was there was the physical impossibility which anyone must recognize of persons forcing their way through people wedged together like this. Our brake was at the top of the market place, the people were all in, front, and why on earth did the reporter not go to the outside of the meeting and down the other side? He could have 333 easily got in that wav, and we should have been glad to welcome him there; but the police deliberately tried to force their way right in front where the people were wedged in as much as possible. I then saw these dozen police with the reporter in their midst stop. I supposed then they were satisfied, and saw they could not get further. My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo made one or two observations, and then the police fell back, and I thought, perhaps, they were going round. Let me observe we did not see the Resident Magistrate at all. If the Resident Magistrate had shown himself at all and said he wanted the reporter to pass, one would have let him pass; the difficulty was that the reporter did not come alone, but with this body of police. The hon. Member for East Mayo went on speaking, and the horsemen—not this wonderful regiment I see mentioned in The Times, but some 20 horsemen—closed round outside the meeting in order to hear. [An Irish MEMBER: They do it at every meeting.] Suddenly, after this advance guard had fallen back and joined the other, they all rushed forward. I am told they came to where these horsemen were, and one of the policemen drew his sword and wounded one of the horses. I believe the hon. Member for Northwich saw this done. Immediately there was a scrimmage. The horses, of course, plunged. The police drew their batons and rushed on the people, striking right and left, and, as was natural, the people did their best to resist. There were exceedingly few people who had thick sticks—a number had switches; but I am perfectly certain not above 50 people were at any moment fighting with the police, who were about the same number. There were a number of women and children further in the crowd. These policemen were rushing about like maniacs, and I say the people had a right to resist this attack. The attack, I assert—and I saw it as clearly as I see the First Lord of the Treasury this moment—the attack was deliberately made by the police and not by the people. The police commenced and continued it, and the people were defending their wives and children, as they had a perfect right to do; and I am delighted to think that they did it. The next thing that happened was the police ran 334 away. Captain Seagrave may have been amongst them; but it appears he deserted them on this occasion, and went to a neighbouring inn on the right of the market place. The police were pursued by a very few people, for a number of priests got in the way and did their best to drive the people back and separate them from the police. Anyhow the police disappeared round the corner. It is possible there may have been some stones thrown at the barracks, but I can only say there were exceedingly few people near. The people naturally came to where the meeting was. The police ran into the barracks and shut the door of the barracks, and then my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo went there, and, I dare say, he will explain what took place. All we know is we heard, firing immediately after the people near the barracks were separated in ones and twos, and the aim of the police was deliberate, considering the number of shots fired, and that there were three people hit, one being killed, and a second dying. But here is a remarkable fact. The man who was killed in the market place had a hole in the top of his head and another on his forehead, and the medical man who examined him said it was absolutely impossible for the bullet to have passed from one wound to the other, and that he must have been hit by two bullets. Does that not show that the police aimed deliberately? If you fire at the people who are not massed together, and you find three persons wounded, one of them in two places, you know the police have taken deliberate aim. The right hon. Gentleman said some of these police were in the market place, and that one of them crawled into the barracks; but I think that is a very mythical account, and I am plainly certain, from the action of the priests, that they would not have allowed such conduct as that which the right hon. Gentleman described. The people were entirely under control. There was no idea of any attack on the barracks, and there was no sort of danger of the police being attacked in the barracks. Why, this barrack is where the police permanently reside. There is an iron door and iron shutters, and after they had slammed the door how can anybody suppose these few persons in the streets, even admitting a few stones were thrown, would be able 335 to force their way? I will admit that the door of the barracks was open, but I am told that the door was forced open by some of the police, in their desperate efforts to get in; but anybody knows if half a dozen police were standing there with bayonets fixed and threatening to fire they would be able to hold their own. This was a deliberate attack on the part of the police. My hon. Friends the Members fur Northwich and Merionethshire got on the brake and joined the Mayor of Cork in urging the people to clear the streets for fear of further bloodshed. I remained on the brake, because I was anxious to see what would take place, besides it was a good place to take notes. I have already spoken of one police station, but while the people were separated in groups in the market place a number of police ran out of the other station. They came in loose formation with staves in their hands, batoning and bludgeoning everybody they came across. The people ran away, and those behind, very naturally, began to throw stones. The stones passed by the brake; most of them passed directly over my head, and they were not very large. The police ran into the house of a priest, and took shelter there, and then the market place was clear. I got down from the brake, and the hon. Member for Northwich and I went to the principal police station to ask what this meant. I saw Captain Seagrave, and I asked what this disturbance meant. I want the House to notice that he did not say the reporter had been refused admission, but he said, "You have no right to hold a meeting in the market place." I asked why, and he said, "I forbade the bands to play this morning by the Court House." I asked him, "You don't forbid a meeting in the market place, do you?" and he did not answer. Captain Seagrave is an exceedingly weak and foolish man, unfitted for the responsible position in which he was placed; but, considering the circumstances, he behaved in a gentlemanly way with me, but at the same time he was very reticent in the matter. I told him the Court was not sitting, and, even if it were, how did that include a meeting in the market place, and also how were we to know the meeting would not be permitted, but he would not answer me. I also asked him if there had been any Proclamation with 336 regard to this meeting, and he said, "No." He also said the Riot Act had not been read. He next told us that we might hold the meeting in another place, and that his reporter must be there. I said there would be no objection, and we would guarantee the absolute inviolability of the reporter, and also of a couple of policemen if sent with him; but he replied no, that he must send a number of men. While we were discussing this an inspector called him aside, and, immediately, Captain Sea-grave said, "I forbid a meeting anywhere." I said, "This is most extraordinary. Five minutes ago you told us we might hold a meeting outside the town, and now you object. I don't understand the law of this in any sort of way." He then said, "I am going to have out the military," and I said, "I think you are making a great mistake. The Square has been cleared, and we are doing our best to keep the people entirely under control, but I am afraid this display will cause disturbance." I was of opinion this man was not in a condition to be in this responsible position, and anyone who saw him would think so. Shortly afterwards the military arrived—and they behaved in a different way from the police. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman the Constabulary were like wild beasts, but the military behaved in a way I should hope all English soldiers would behave. I have stated that Captain Seagrave told me that he had forbidden the bands to play in the morning, and that that in some way implied that a meeting might not be held in the market place. The hon. Member for West Donegal (Mr O'Hea and the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Condon) had seen the Resident Magistrate in the morning, and this is what occurred. At 11.45 Messrs. Condon and O'Hea, with the Mayor of Cork, heard a band which was coming to Mitchelstown suddenly stopped. They asked the sergeant of police who gave directions for it to be stopped, and the sergeant replied the district inspector, that the Magistrate's Court was sitting and the band would disturb it. Mr. Condon pointed out it was not within distance to interrupt the Court where it was stopped, and that they would not go into the town. The sergeant stated that Captain Seagrave was in charge, 337 and that he would lie at one of the police stations. Messrs. Condon and O'Hea went to both stations, but could not find Captian Seagrave in the town. It seems to me the first duty of a Resident Magistrate is to show himself. There were two Members of Parliament hunting everywhere for Captain Seagrave, the Resident Magistrate in command, in order to ask him whether he objected to the meeting or procession, and to tell him they were ready to do anything they could in order to avoid any disturbance, but this gentleman was not to be found. I went with my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo to the police station for the purpose of asking the police inspector if he did not give the orders to fire to have the weapons of the Constabulary searched in order that he might learn who were the persons that killed these men. I must say I never met a more insolent, a more supercilious, or a more arrogant man in my life than this inspector. Why, he seemed to feel that a civilian had hardly a right to address him. He said, in reply, "What do you ask me this question for? Tell me this, do you think I am going to take orders from you?" [Cries of "Hear, hear!" from the Ministerial Benches.] Well, I think if a Member of Parliament is at one of these meetings, and sees what has taken place, and sees the body of a man lying killed on the market place, he has a great right to ask civilly, but firmly, the inspector of police, if he did not give the order to fire himself, to examine the weapons of the men, in order that he might be able to say who fired on the occasion. "Well," paid he, "what are you going to do?" "What I am going to do," said I, "is to call attention to your conduct, and what has taken place to-day, in the House of Commons." "What!" he exclaimed, "do you threaten me? "A threat, indeed, by this wretched constable when I said I would appeal to the House of Commons against his conduct. "I will threaten you if you don't take care of yourself," said he. [Ministerial cheers.] We can perfectly well understand from these cries why it is hon. Gentlemen opposite are not surprised at what's going on in Ireland. I said, "It appears to me the streets are as much mine as yours." "If you don't go away," said he, "I 338 will clear you away very soon." I thought it well to go, but before going, I said to those around, "I have called upon this officer to examine the muskets—I call upon you to witness I have done so, and let him do so now, not just as he likes." With regard to the police reporters attending these meetings, I wish to say I do not understand the law on the matter, but it appears to me very extraordinary. I am no lawyer, and I ask the Attorney General for Ireland under what Statute or under what Common Law has any Resident Magistrate in Ireland, or any magistrate in England, the right to force a reporter through a crowd, pushing and jostling the crowd, in order that he may take notes of the speeches? Has it ever been done in England? The Attorney General for Ireland said it was the custom in Ireland, but custom does not make a law. I say the police had no right to force this reporter through the crowd, and if they did the crowd had a perfect right to resist. Moreover, the reporter had got to a point where he could hear perfectly well. We have heard a good deal about Proclamations, but the Government had not proclaimed this meeting at all. On what ground, then, did they break it up? If they had a right to do so, then any meeting, although it was not proclaimed, might be broken up because some magistrate did not approve of it being held at a particular place. The Resident Magistrate actually told me "You might have held it anywhere else." The market-place was the most natural place to hold that meeting. It was not like holding a meeting in London or any large town. Captain Seagrave does not pretend it was broken up on account of the reporter. It appears the only reason why it was broken up was because he had decided in his own mind that no meeting should be held in the market-place, and he does not appear to have told anybody of that intention. I say that two men more thoroughly unfit for positions of responsibility than this Resident Magistrate, Seagrave, and this County Inspector, Brownrigg, could not be found on the face of the earth. Captain Seagrave is a gentlemanly young man, but apparently a very weak and incompetent young man. I am perfectly certain that if Colonel Turner or any man of sense or discretion were 339 there, there would not have been any collision between the police and the people. Captain Seagrave appeared to me to be a mere dummy, and a mere instrument in the hands of Inspector Brownrigg, and a more wonderful specimen of an official ruffian than Brownrigg I never came across. I can only form my judgment on what I heard and what I saw, and I cannot but feel there was a deliberate intention on the part of Brownrigg to break up this meeting. He probably said to himself "others have been rewarded for carrying out the policy of the Government, The Government objects to meetings in Ireland; they object to English Members coming over to these meetings. They consider that to attack them is to attack the principles of Government. I may get promotion if I manage to get up a row and to baton and bludgeon the people in such a way that I shall at once discourage English Members coming over here, or, if they do come over, the Irish people from going to hear them." I really believe this is the case. It is utterly impossible to suppose that any human beings could have committed so many blunders as that Resident Magistrate and Inspector, and therefore they must have acted with the deliberate intention of getting up a row. That seems to be the only reasonable data to found their action upon. I do wish that hon. Members would go over themselves to Ireland—I do not think they realize what the position is. The police are absolutely masters over there. I have seen a good deal of this sort of thing. I have been to Poland, and seen the Cossacks there; I have lived in Lombardy, when the Austrians were there; I was in France when the Prussians were there. I can only compare the action of the police in Ireland to the action of the Prussians in France, but the Prussians were not so despotic, so arrogant, so insulting in their tone as these police are. Except you go there it is impossible by mere hearing it to realize what is going on—to realize how law is thoroughly ignored in Ireland. Ireland is treated as an occupied and conquered country. The police are absolutely masters, and the people have no redress. It is like going from Pilate to Caiaphas to appeal to Dublin Castle. The Castle supports the police—right or wrong the police 340 must be supported. To whom does the right hon. Gentleman appeal for justification of their conduct? Why, to the police themselves. You may as well tell me that you should not hang Lipski because he said he was not a murderer. It is perfectly monstrous. They ought to send men to Ireland like Sir Redvers Buller. It is an outrage on common decency to send men like Captain Plunkett to report upon this matter. But it should be remembered the right hon. Gentleman says all this is done under the Common Law of England. I hope the people of England will realize that this is not exceptional conduct which is only attempted because it is in Ireland, and which would only be permitted in Ireland, but that they themselves hold their right to public meeting at the will and the beck of the Government. The Government may proclaim a meeting without fearing an immediate riot, but on the doctrine of a hypothetical contingent riot at some other place; but let them try to force a reporter on a meeting here. I say that if they tried to force a reporter on a meeting in London it would be resisted. What, then, would the police do? Would they go into the nearest house, and under the plea that their lives were in danger, fire out on the people and kill some of them? Why, no Government would last a day if they did that. But it is because it is in Ireland that it is permitted. That is the reason why I have always been on the side of Ireland, because I want to see her treated like England, and no better and no worse than England. By permitting those things to be done in Ireland because she is far off, and because they are not fully reported in the papers, the Government are committing an outrage on the very principle of justice and equality. The Chief Secretary tells us he hopes by these means to create a union between England and Ireland. What sort of a union does he expect to create? Does he expect to create a union of hearts and affections—does he hope to create a love for the English Government? I am happy to see in Ireland that the people are making a wide distinction between the people of England and the Government of England. They know their troubles are only temporary, that a new alliance exists between the democracies of England and Ireland, 341 and that the classes will not be able to hold their own against such an alliance. I hold that the right hon. Gentleman is indirectly responsible for what has occurred at Mitchelstown, and that those who are directly responsible are Resident Magistrate Seagrave and Inspector Brownrigg. I accuse these men of gross and deliberate murder.
§ MR. O'HEA (Donegal, W.)
said, the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland had reminded him of the typical police magistrate, who believed everything told him by the police, and refused to pay any attention to evidence given by civilians, however respectable, which discredited those statements.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. O'HEA
resuming, said, that having been present during the whole of the proceedings at Mitchelstown, he was in a position to state thatThe Freeman's Journalaccount of the disturbance was in some respects accurate, but in others very highly-coloured and inaccurate; but there was one fact about which there was and could be no controversy. It was that the disturbance was initiated by the police obtruding themselves upon the meeting. When the hon. Member for East Tipperary saw that the first body of police and the Government shorthand writer had got near enough to the platform he proceeded with his address. That peace had been restored was evident from the opening sentences of his speech, but he was soon interrupted by a second disturbance, caused by a second body of police attempting to reinforce their comrades who were in the crowd, and a great deal of hustling and jostling took place. The people were assaulted by the police in an unwarrantable and brutal fashion, and he was proud to say that under these circumstances they made use of their sticks against the constables. After the retreat of the police under a shower of stones, the people had the intention of again gathering round the platform, but the sound of a shot was heard, there was a stampede from the barracks, and the excitement became intense. The shot was followed by several others, and the hon. Member for Northampton, as well as himself and others, implored the people for God's sake to disperse, and 342 not allow themselves to be butchered. The firing caused a panic, and in the space of about a minute the square was cleared of all but a score of people. He was afterwards standing with others at the door of Father Morrison's house in the square when 25 or 30 policemen rushed through, striking indiscriminately, and some even came through the doorway into the hall and struck some of those who were gathered there. He avoided a violent blow by stepping out of the way, and someone else received it. It was now said that the police entered the house for their own protection, but the truth was there was no necessity for them to seek shelter anywhere, for no one was then attacking them in the square. The police were told they were intruders, and they had better leave, and they did so. He accompanied the hon. Member for East Mayo when he appealed to Captain Seagrave to send someone to restrain the police, and happened to remark to him—" You ought to be proud of this day's work." This remark perhaps explained why he did not receive a little more civility, but, making allowance for that, he must agree that the captain's manner was rather supercilious, and he did not seem to have the aplomb which would fit him for the responsible position he was placed in. He had no wish to use strong language with regard to County Inspector Brownrigg, but he must say that had Bill Sykes been in the County Inspector's uniform he could not have looked a more truculent brute. Before the meeting he (Mr. O'Hea) and others made every effort to find Captain Seagrave. It was the business of Captain Seagrave to be somewhere where he could be found. They hunted about three-quarters of an hour round the little town for him, but he was nowhere to be found. Their object in looking for him was to come to a distinct understanding that would prevent any hostility, collision, or friction between the people and the authorities. If they could have found him they would have undertaken to guarantee the safety of a reporter, and he believed the unfortunate events that had occurred would have been avoided. The whole responsibility for what had occurred rested directly upon Captain Seagrave and County Inspector Brownrigg, and upon the Government which employed incompetent officials. 343 He believed that the occurrences at Mitchelstown, like the writing on the wall, would mark the early and ignominious doom of the Government, who were responsible for the lamentable events of that day.
§ MR. FISHER (Fulham)
said, it seemed to him that the salient point was the right of the Government to have a reporter at the meeting. The hon. Member for Northampton denied and disputed the right. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE: No.] He referred the right hon. Gentleman to the hon. Member's speech at Cork on Saturday night. But he would quote against the hon. Member for Northampton the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, who, when in Office, laid it down, that when the Government had reason to anticipate a breach of law and order then they had a right to have a reporter present. He particularly observed that the right hon. Gentleman in his long historical disquisition as to the Common Law rights of public meetings refused to give the House his definition of what constituted an unlawful assembly, although he went back to 1795, and although he gave them one or two precedents within the last 10 years. He should like to remind the House of what took place in connection with the great meeting of repealers at Clontarf in 1843, which was prohibited by the Government. What were the circumstances attending the Clontarf meeting? It was true that the first notice announcing the meeting was couched in language containing military terms calculated possibly to inspire some terror and alarm apart from the ordinary circumstances in which a meeting might be called together. Prior to the prohibition of the meeting, however, the military terms were carefully expunged. The Irish Leaders in those days, like the Nationalist Leaders of today, were very anxious to keep just on the outside edge of legality, and so they expunged those terms in the notice which might give offence or create alarm; but for all that the meeting was proclaimed by the Executive and stopped to a great extent through the exertions of O'Connell himself. In the debate which took place in the House on that occasion, Lord John Russell, while blaming the Government for not giving longer notice of their Proclamation, said— 344I am not one of those who disapprove of prohibiting meetings which may be illegal or which by their multitudinous attendance may end in forcible intimidation.As to the Common Law right of prohibiting public meetings, he might cite the opinion of Lord Brougham, whose language, however, went beyond what he should be prepared to adopt as the proper policy for this country. In speaking of the Chartist meetings in 1848 Lord Brougham laid it down that it was most important for the peace of the country, as well as the liberty of the subject, for the rights of the Crown as well as the rights of the people, that the right of Petition should be as little as may be interfered with. Lord Brougham also held the right of public meeting to stand in the same position, but that it was an absolutely essential condition for the exercise of that right and for its existence that the meeting should be for discussion alone; wherever the meeting was a mere assemblage of numbers, too large for any possibility of discussion, it became an assemblage of numbers merely for the display of physical force and intended to overawe the Government. He held that it was impossible to give an exact definition of what an unlawful assembly was, but he would shelter himself behind the definition given by a late Irish Solicitor General of the past Liberal Administration, Mr. Justice Johnson. That Gentleman laid it down that if a riot occurred it was the duty of the magistrate to quell it, if necessary, by force; and even when no riot occurred it was also the duty of the magistrate to disperse, and, if necessary, by force, an unlawful assemblage. The commonest form of such an unlawful assembly, he said, was a meeting which from its character and the circumstances in which it had assembled was likely to prove dangerous to the peace of the neighbourhood or was calculated to excite terror, alarm, or consternation. It must therefore at all times be for the Executive to say, looking at all the circumstances and details of the case, and all the local conditions, whether or not a meeting which was to be held was an unlawful assembly, and whether they had a legal right to proclaim that meeting. If the Government were wrong in point of law their conduct could be questioned in the Law Courts. If their policy was inexpedient it could be questioned in the 345 House. For his part, he conceived there was little doubt as to the legal right of the Government to proclaim the meeting at Ennis. The House and the country, he thought, would be satisfied that in doing so they closely adhered to their legal right and carried out their policy in the interests of law and order.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
I think, Sir, it was naturally to be expected that this debate should mainly direct itself towards the distressing circumstances of the recent occurrence at Mitchelstown; but, notwithstanding this, I am strongly of opinion, and indeed I think the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down will probably not dissent from that opinion, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby has performed a public service in drawing the attention of the House to this subject, and in giving to the House the great advantage of a very full, a very clear, and a very weighty account of the authorities bearing on the subject of public meetings under the Common Law, and likewise of calling attention not only to the facts of the Ennis case, but, what is still more important, to the doctrines in connection with which these facts are to be judged. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland sat down after saying that he and his Government would persevere in their endeavours to bring about tranquillity in Ireland by a firm administration of the law and by the removal, not of grievances—for there were none.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Oh, I beg pardon; I am much obliged for the correction, but I see no difference. Still it is much better to be verbally correct. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was aware that he would find nothing but opposition from this side of the House in his endeavours. I do not intend to dwell on that somewhat invidious remark; but I must protest against it. I must say that whenever Her Majesty's Government have made a proposal which appeared to us in the slightest degree beneficial to the people of Ireland we have hailed that proposal and we have done all in our power to forward it; and when they have been engaged, as we think, during the present year in a course most unwise 346 and most unconstitutional, and likely to disturb and break up the foundations of social order in that country, we have done everything that was in our power by the use of most earnest and energetic language to encourage strict obedience to the law. I will venture to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I believe our respectful advice to the people of Ireland has been of more use in procuring obedience to the law than all your Crimes Acts and your Constabulary, managed as it was at Mitchelstown. I have spoken of the management of the Constabulary at Mitchelstown, and I hope that we shall hear in the course of time much more on that subject. But undoubtedly one point raised by the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) appeared to me to deserve the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. The first body of police to escort the reporter consisted of 22 men. I think that number was given in The Standard newspaper, but I am not quite certain. There were 50 constables in the second body. We do not understand that they were under any command or any responsible guidance whatever. If this is so, the circumstance is so strange that I cannot take it for granted; but undoubtedly the accounts given in the newspapers tend to that belief, and I hope we shall have some explanation on the subject. The point, however, on which I wish to speak and to draw the attention of the House is the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby. My right hon. Friend has said that it appears to him that the prohibition of the meeting at Ennis was an invasion of public liberty. He has supported himself by references to the very highest authorities. Those authorities are not lawyers who might be supposed to be tainted with Liberal or ultra-Liberal doctrines. On the contrary, my right, hon. Friend relied on many other distinguished names; above all, on the eminent and very distinguished name of Lord Eldon—I may say, considering Lord Eldon as lawyer and not as statesman, the illustrious name of Lord Eldon—as a very great lawyer whose conscience was keenly alive on the subject of law. Well, Sir, it seems to be quite clear, upon the doctrine of Lord Eldon, that it is impossible to justify the proclamation of the Ennis meeting. Lord Eldon laid it down that 347 if a meeting were treasonable, that was a reason, no doubt, for prohibiting and preventing it; if it were dangerous to the public peace, that was a reason for prohibiting and preventing it. But, then, that means proximate danger to the public peace, and not a speculative danger, which it is within the discretion of an official to imagine and to suggest. To my astonishment the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, bracing up all his energies to the business he had in hand, proceeded with self-confidence to denounce the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, bristling with legal authorities throughout, as empty and hollow, and to pass by entirely the discussion and the bearing those authorities had upon the question of the proclamation of the Ennis meeting. What is the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman? A simple tu quoque, neither more nor less. In a matter of mere politics the tu quoque argument is usually the resort of persons who are in great difficulties. But in a matter of law it is absurd to suppose that in this House, when you appeal to great legal authorities and standards, you are liable to be overthrown by saying—Why, you did it. What does it signify—what does it signify for the purpose in view? It may signify a good deal for the purpose of throwing blame upon us. I do not wish to escape from that blame; but it is absurd and preposterous, and not to be tolerated in a man who is a Minister of the Grown, that when it is said the law has been tampered with and infringed, he is to say—You did it. That is no argument whatever. It is a fresh accusation, and as a fresh accusation may deserve a good deal of attention. Let us look at this fresh accusation. What was it? I heard the words of the right hon. Gentleman, and the words were these—that Lord Spencer and Mr. Forster had in 130 cases at least used those powers against public meetings.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I said Mr. Forster in 130 cases, to which you must add all the cases in which Lord Spencer used thorn subsequently.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
That, Sir, was not the original statement of the right hon. Gentleman. There were, he said, 130 cases. Let us well understand this. Lord Spencer has nothing at all to do with, the matter, 348 except as to a single case. I was prepared to meet the right hon. Gentleman, on the part of Lord Spencer and the Government at that period, with a simple denial, and with regard to that single case I believe that denial applies. But the right hon. Gentleman has narrowed his proposition so much that I will not put it upon that part of the question. Well, there were 130 cases from Mr. Forster. On a challenge from the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) to explain whether these were public meetings for discussion or not, the 130 cases sank down to 30—a considerable collapse in the case of a statement made by a Gentleman who speaks with all the facilities of official information. After that collapse there remained 30 cases, and for ray part I must say I am totally unaware of any act of the description the right hon. Gentleman has given us. Mr. Forster is not here to speak for himself; I have no power of communication at the moment with anyone who can speak for him; but all I can say is this, that whether we have done this or not—and I do not admit that Mr. Forster did it until I have some clear account of what he did—it has no bearing whatever on the legality of the proceeding. If we have tampered with the law so much the worse, and so much the more necessary it is that the practice of the Executive should be brought back to the law. We have a Minister deliberately going by the discussion of the law, and deliberately setting aside, deliberately describing, in fact, as hollow and unreal a speech made up in great part of citations from the highest legal authorities, showing what the true legal doctrine was, and resting himself upon an accusation made against a former Government, as if it were possible that the practice of former Governments combined with the practice of his Government could make legal that which is in itself illegal. Therefore, I want to know whether that is really to be the ground of defence, or whether the Government are prepared to grapple with the authorities laid down by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, and in particular with the authority of Lord Eldon? The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down dwelt on the case of Clontarf, as if it had anything to do—he will forgive me for saying so—with the discussion in which we 349 are now engaged. The case of Clontarf was a case in which, if I remember right, it was intended to gather together 150,000 or 200,000 people; and I rather think I am correct in saying that on that occasion, or about that period—because there had been more meetings—Sir James Graham, then Home Secretary, was asked as to whether numbers made a meeting illegal. I do not know whether that question had reference to the opinion which the hon. and learned Gentleman has quoted from Lord Brougham—an opinion which, I confess, does not appear to be unreasonable. At any rate, it seems to me that a meeting which is upon a scale so vast that the discussion cannot possibly be exhaustive, stands in a totally different category from the meeting we are now considering, the meeting at Ennis, with respect to which those considerations have the smallest possible application. Now, with regard to the particular facts of the meeting at Ennis, and whether the right hon. Gentleman had any reason to apprehend that it would be of a dangerous character, I can only say that it would be absurd for me to attempt to pronounce an authoritative opinion without a far more minute and accurate knowledge of the facts than I at present possess. But this I must say—that in my opinion the right hon. Gentleman did not in the slightest degree lay before us evidence calculated to command our assent upon that subject. I leave that point rather to be discussed by others; but I wish to draw attention to the point which my right hon. Friend had mainly in his mind—the fact of the prohibition of the meeting, combined with the doctrine by which that prohibition has been justified. My right hon. Friend read out in the hearing of the Attorney General for Ireland the doctrine of that right hon. and learned Gentleman, and what said he? He said that, under the Common Law, it would be justifiable—I am not quoting, but only giving the substance—to prevent a public meeting which the Government, upon the evidence before it, might regard as calculated to produce public disorder, or to be called together for an improper purpose. Well, Sir, all public meetings held on the Liberal side are meetings called together for an improper purpose. Will the right hon. and learned Gentle-man adhere to such language as that? 350 Will he lay that down as a legal opinion? Does not common sense teach the meanest and most ignorant among us that, if a Government is authorized to prevent a meeting which it regards as called for an improper purpose, the meaning is that the entire liberties of the people as regards public meetings are placed in the hands of that Government? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that in this House of Commons he could propose a clause which would run to the effect—" Be it enacted that if Her Majesty's Government shall have reason to consider that a meeting is called for an improper purpose, they there and then shall proceed to prohibit it?" The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary of Ireland carefully eschewed the discussion of those legal doctrines. Now, what we want is to drag those legal doctrines into view. However important is the prohibition of a particular meeting, much more is the general rule upon which these proceedings are hereafter to be governed. I say that, if you are to prohibit a meeting on account of its tendency to disorder, that must be proximate disorder. You have no right to say, "We think these are dangerous things, and will ultimately issue in social disorganization." That is not ground for prohibiting a meeting. Lord Eldon admitted no such ground; he only admitted that which was likely to lead to disorder and riot in connection with the meeting itself. And then it is most important we should know from the Government whether the Attorney General intends to advise the Government that when a meeting is called for an improper purpose, he is to be at liberty to prohibit it. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland said that there had been a great number of meetings—I think over 300—held since he had been in Office; which were permitted to be held, and only a very small number subjected to prohibition. I even will venture to hope that recent occurrences may have taught a lesson to the Government, and I shall watch their conduct with a very great interest from a sincere and earnest desire to find that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give something like reality in the future more than in the past, to the principles he has laid down with regard to the value of the title of the people to assemble together for the purpose of dis- 351 cussing the action of the Legislature and the Government, and for every purpose which is consistent with the laws of the land, and with the peace of the country. That is exactly what appears to us not to have been the principle by which Her Majesty's Government were prompted in the case of Ennis, where they not even attempted to show that their proceedings were in conformity with the law as laid down by the highest legal authorities. Then the right hon. Gentleman went to those proceedings at Mitchelstown which have once more harrowed up the feelings of the country at large, and I must say that his conduct appears to me to have been marked by singular rashness and imprudence in the line he has taken upon that subject. It was perfectly competent for him to say in these grave circumstances, after the loss of two lives, if not three—if only two, the third hardly trembling in the balance, but approaching certainly the latest hour—it was open to him to say that "This must be the subject of inquiry not less grave, and I decline to enter upon any discussion. I decline to say who was right or who was wrong, and we must have these things searched and probed to the very bottom, and whatever may be my private impression, at any rate the opinion of the Executive Government must not be given until we are in possession of the fullest information." For my own part, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, when this painful intelligence was first divulged, that I felt persuaded that that would be the course which the Government would take. Instead of that the right hon. Gentleman has rushed headlong into the thick of the fray; he has made up his mind, and he has contended in this House that all that was done was right, and that if the police had not done what they did they would have been guilty of the grossest neglect, that the people in mass who had been attending the meeting attacked the barracks, and that the strictest laws of self-defence required the police to fire upon them. These are propositions to which, with an imprudence which I cannot describe, the right hon. Gentleman has at a moment's notice been ready to pledge himself. He has identified himself with every one of these proceedings. It is idle for us to say now that the police are to blame. The right 352 hon. Gentleman has judged the matter. He has gone so far as to say that the police could not have done less than they did, and that all they did was in the last extremity wrung from them by dire necessity, and so long as he was Chief Secretary for Ireland he would take care that in like necessity they should do the same. Had the right hon. Gentleman pursued what I think the more usual course, had the right hon. Gentleman maintained a discreet reserve on account of the nature of the case, and at the same time pledged himself to the House of Commons that every effort that he could use should be employed to get at the truth, in order to bring it out to the view of Parliament and the world, I for one—inconvenient as it might appear at this period of the Session in some points of view—undoubtedly would have accepted at once that declaration of Her Majesty's Government, and would have declined any discussion of the question. But it is impossible to take that course—the right hon. Gentleman has made it impossible. He has done all that he could to bias a judicial inquiry. With all the authority of his Office he has declared what is now the firm and fixed opinion of the Executive—and he has compelled us to state how the thing appears to us on the facts as they are before us. I reserve, Sir, my ultimate judgment upon them. I do not consider that anything but presumptions are open to me at the present moment. I consider the presumptions or the assertions—the presumptions or the judgments, of the right hon. Gentleman are right in the teeth of the facts as they are given on trustworthy information. I am sorry that there may be many here who did not hear the extremely lucid, and I think fair and impartial statement of the senior Member for Northampton. I listened to it with great attention. I have gathered what I could from the public journals, and from what has been said in this House, and especially I may say from the reports supplied to The Standard newspaper. It appeared to me to be written by a man of great intelligence, and a man of whom I am justified, I presume, in believing that at any rate he has not made his report under the influence of predilections for the cause of the Nationalists. Then there is a mixture here again of state- 353 ments of fact and of doctrine. Doctrines have been laid down with respect to the attendance of a Government reporter at public meetings and Nationalist meetings. What appears to have happened in this case? No communication was held with the promoters of the meeting. Is it possible to conceive a grosser or more culpable negligence? The Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks fit, I will not say to ridicule, but to signify astonishment at that proposition. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER nodded I assent.] Everybody knows that it is the usual practice of reporters to make arrangements with the promoters of meetings. What are the rights of Government reporters? Why, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland has spoken of them as if they were sacro-sancti. They have no rights at all excepting—[Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented]—oh, you are in too great a hurry, you do not even wait for a comma—I was going to say excepting the right which all persons have of attending a meeting to which all persons are invited. The Government reporter, therefore, has that right and no other. If he has any other right, what law or custom has given it to him? If you have that right, why did you not use it in a prudent manner; why did you not communicate with the promoters of the meeting? Why did you not have your chief officer on the spot, instead of his being where nobody could find him? I do not believe that in Ireland it will be necessary for all eternity to have Government reporters at public meetings. I have attended many in the course of my life, and I do not think I over had the honour and pleasure of seeing a Government reporter. If he does go to a meeting he should attend subject to the rules of prudence and courtesy. It was the duty of the Government and of their agents to take care to bring the reporter there in a manner most convenient to all concerned, and least likely to bring about a disturbance of the public peace. Above all, if they choose to assert this doctrine of right—which we shall scrutinize pretty severely—I hope there will be a disposition to give us some explicit information upon the subject. You tell tell me that there are meetings of a dangerous character, and likely in the circumstances of Ireland to lead to dis- 354 turbance. Then I say these are additional reasons why, in sending your reporter to these meetings, you should take care do it in a way that is not in itself likely to be a cause of difficulty. What is done in this case? On this occasion the police endeavoured by force to make their way through a dense crowd gathered in front of the speaker. I solemnly declare that, in my opinion, there are but two explanations for such an extraordinary course of proceeding—one which I never saw, and I doubt whether any man who hears me ever saw. One is that there was an intention to bring about disorder. I do not entertain that, but circumstances somewhat warrant this possibility. It is not my own belief; but I am bound to say it shows a degree of stupidity and negligence which it is hardly possible to conceive. The hon. Member for Northampton assures us that there was another route to the waggonette where the speakers were arrayed by which they could have attended without the least difficulty. Is anybody prepared to contradict that statement? If they cannot contradict it, why was not that route taken? But even if they can contradict it, why was this astonishing method pursued of rushing with a body of men against a dense crowd except for the very purpose of creating disorder? Well, Sir, these are questions which it appears to me have never presented themselves to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who rides so easily over this rough ground and finds himself able to assort that the conduct of the police was perfectly correct, and that they would have grossly failed in their duty if they had not done what they did. He contradicted me when I said that the police attempted to make their way into the crowd by force. He quoted newspapers. I quote the correspondent of The Standard, who says that three times over the police made their way by force. He says, in the first place, that the police appeared, not 12 in number, but 20, on the outskirts of the crowd, and attempted to force their way through. Twice does the correspondent of The Standard refer to the police attempting to "force their way through." In matters such as these a very large shave of responsibility must rest on those who commit the first error, and it certainly was a gross and most 355 dangerous error to attempt to force a body of 16 policemen through a dense crowd. What The Standard correspondent says—and he seems to be a credible and fair reporter—is that when the people were ran at in this way "sticks were raised threateningly at the police." The police were not struck, but sticks were raised in a threatening manner. This was at the first onset. The crowd then "pushed the constables to the rear." That was the conduct of which the crowd were guilty. The crowd refused to part, and pushed the police back. Then came the second event. Who was responsible for this? The effort to get the shorthand writer through the crowd had apparently failed. Why did the second body of 50 police come up? Was it to bring the shorthand writer through the crowd? No. We hear no more of the shorthand writer. According to The Standard correspondent, this second body of men formed up at the foot of the square as a reserve to the dozen men who had tried to force a passage for the Government reporter. When these latter men again advanced "they drew their staves and charged at the people." I say that they had no right to charge at the people to secure a passage for the shorthand writer. No one has aright, be he a Government shorthand writer or a police constable escorting a Government shorthand writer, to disturb a public meeting. The right to be present at a public meeting is subject to the obligation to observe its order and to obey its rules. Anyone who breaks that order, whether he be a policeman or police Inspector, or a civilian, is a disturber of the public peace. We now come to the saddest part of all. These 50 policemen having charged the people, were repulsed and driven back. There was much hard fighting, and many of the police suffered. I am sorry for that; I have great respect for the police of Ireland, for I believe they do their best under very difficult circumstances. They certainly have most painful duties to perform in carrying into execution the policy of the present Government. I will not question their chivalry and pronounce on the present occasion, or on their present action. At any rate, they were defeated and driven back, and many hard blows were given and taken. Then comes the saddest chapter of all. The right hon. Gentleman has told us 356 that the people who had been at the meeting attacked the barracks and were on the point of breaking into them, and that the police fired in self-defence and to save their comrades who were still outside. But what proof has he given us of that? The proof was that one man, seriously wounded, crept into the police barracks.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I deny that that contained proof on the side of what appeared to be the one strong point—and it was a very weak point—of the case of the right hon. Gentleman. What proof has the right hon. Gentleman given us that the people who were at the meeting pursued the police to the barracks and attempted to storm the barracks? He gave us no proof whatever. There is, however, in support of the story told by the other side the fact that the victims of the police fire consisted of an old man who had been for 21 years a soldier, another old man who subsequently died, and a boy of 17 years of age. Were these the men who with blackthorn sticks had been driving the police back? All the facts show that there was no substantial attack on the barracks, but that there were merely a few persons, among whom were some boys, scattered in front of the barracks, and that, judging by the accounts in the newspapers, some few windows may have been broken. I do not push these statements, which are necessarily imperfect, to the precipitate and imprudent length of the Minister of the Crown, who has dived to the bottom of this subject; but I say that these are presumptions entirely adverse to the propositions of the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope we shall hear, before this debate closes, that this great and sad and grievous matter, which has created a sentiment of horror and disgust throughout Great Britain, will not be allowed to remain in the dark, but will be searched and probed to the bottom, and the whole facts made known to Parliament and the country. The right hon. Gentleman said he wished to pursue a course of conciliation and firmness in the government of Ireland, and that he has every confidence that it will all come right in the end. I wish I could say that there is either firmness or conciliation in the course he has taken. 357 I am afraid that all that has lately taken place in Ireland tends all too powerfully to support our contention during the present Session of Parliament—that the legislation of the Government, which they stated to be directed against crime, is not directed against crime. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the amount of crime in the County Glare and the recent serious outrage which has been committed in that county. But what better means has the right hon. Gentleman of dealing with that crime under the Coercion Act than he would have had without that Act? We are confirmed in our belief that the policy of the Government is not a policy aimed at crime, but that, under the guise of pursuing crime, it pursues combination; it deprives the poor man of the arm by which he can alone maintain his position in the conflict in which he finds himself; and that it is aimed at the liberty of the Press, at the liberty of the subject, and at the liberty of public meeting. I, for my part, am convinced—and the circumstances of every day tend more and more to support that conviction—that the people of this country will not follow the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues in a course which can lead to nothing but disgrace and disaster.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON) (Liverpool, Walton)
The right hon. Gentleman, in the remarkable speech which he has just delivered, has insisted very strongly on the duty of reticence; but he appears, nevertheless, in his own observations to have given the countenance of his support to those who have denounced the conduct of the police at Mitchelstown as that of murderers. In regard to the proclamation of the Ennis meeting, the right hon. Gentleman in one part of his speech condemns the conduct of the Government in proclaiming that meeting, and in the latter part of the same speech he said he would not express any opinion upon that point. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the question of constitutional law was one of personal tu quoque.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
No, no. On the contrary, I said it was entirely separate from it. I complained of the right hon. Gentleman for mixing the two together.
§ MR. GIBSON
The right hon. Gentleman used this expression. He said— 358 " If we tampered with the law, what justification is that for you?" But when did the right hon. Gentleman discover that lie tampered with the law?
§ MR. GIBSON
Can it be credited that the late Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Mr. Law, who had the confidence of the right hon. Gentleman, put his signature to illegal proclamations, that Lord Herschell, who was then Solicitor General, joined in an illegal proclamation, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), who was then Home Secretary, and his late Lord Chancellor, Lord Selborne—all concurred in issuing illegal proclamations, and that 130 meetings, or thereabouts, were put down? The right hon. Gentleman now appears to have thrown overboard the whole body of educated legal opinion. There were altogether 130 meetings proclaimed. Ninety of them were assemblages at evictions, and 16 were coursing meetings proclaimed, because they thought that a comparatively innocent national pastime might be converted, and was converted, into a screen for some mischievous design. In addition there were 30 meetings proclaimed over a period down to January 1882. The right hon. Gentleman must have had these 130 meetings present in his mind, judging from the questions in the House addressed to his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. It is not a question that could have escaped the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, or of his Law Officers. It must have been present to the mind of the Home Secretary, when he made the speeches on the Crimes Bill, to which attention has been called by my right hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, when he was defending the Proclamation Clause in the Crimes Act, stated that it was to supply machinery; but it did not alter the principle on which the Government were entitled to proceed. We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) that the power exercised in the time of Lord Cowper was extensive, and was rightly and legally exercised. The same statement was made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow 359 (Sir George Otto Trevelyan). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, however, has told us tonight that he was advised by his Law Officers that no such power existed at all, and that was the reason for applying to the Legislature for another Act. [An hon. MEMBER: Hear, hear!] I leave it to the hon. Gentleman who said "Hear, hear!" to justify the two statements—the statement in 1882 that the law justified what was done, but had imperfect machinery; and the statement here to-night, that the Law Officers of the Crown advised that no such power existed. It is just as well to clear up this question of the principle of constitutional law. Does law change as we know political opinion changes, or does it not? Does law change as we know justice changes, according as Gentlemen sit on one side of the House, or on another side? Hitherto it has been the idea of lawyers that law is a thing which does not alter except by the agency of an Act of Parliament, and what I want to find out is on what ground the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby in fair play, takes it upon himself to denounce the Government to-night, when they have founded their action exactly on the same principle which guided his own Law Officers? The question confronting us is this. There can be no doubt, as I understand the law, that the Proclamation itself does not ascertain conclusively the character of a meeting which is to be held in the future; and I distinctly stated in my answer to a Question the other evening, that it was a precautionary measure, and that if a Proclamation was issued wrongfully, persons who were aggrieved by the order of the Executive would have their remedy. I assert this to be clear constitutional law, that if the Executive had reasonable and safe grounds for believing that a meeting announced to be held would be attended with danger to the public peace, or to public tranquillity, or was designed for an illegal object, in that case it was the right and the duty of the Executive to interfere. What I want to ascertain from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby is this—does he dispute that it is competent for the Government beforehand to issue its Proclamation, or is it his proposition that it is not competent for 360 the Government to intervene until the meeting is actually being held? The right hon. Gentleman again and again, in the course of his speech, asked us this question—" Why did you not wait until the meeting was held, and until you knew what was going to be done?" This is the vital question in the inquiry upon which we are embarking. Is it, or is it nut, constitutionally competent for the Government, on satisfactory and reasonable information to which it gives credit, to proclaim a meeting as illegal? [An hon. MEMBER: Certainly not.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby does not agree with his Colleagues below the Gangway, because he has admitted that it was; and therefore it comes to this—What are the grounds upon which that power of the Executive is to be exercised? Let me call attention to this circumstance. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the Government can proclaim a meeting that is proposed to be held in futuro. It is not necessary that the avowed objects of the meeting should be illegal. He knows very well that the objects put forward in regard to numerous meetings in the time of Lord Spencer were of the most innocent character—namely, to present addresses to certain Members of Parliament. A mere declaration of the objects of the meeting beforehand can in no way fetter the action of a responsible Government. Again and again meetings of that kind were prohibited.
§ MR. GIBSON
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that meetings of such a kind were proclaimed in the time of Lord Spencer. If you once admit the power of the Executive to proclaim a meeting, the mere declaration of innocent objects cannot restrain that power. A second observation I would make is this—that the action of the Executive cannot be judged to be right or wrong from the fact that the language at the meeting subsequently held was moderate. With these two preliminary observations, I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby will find that I am not so much out of agreement with him as he appeared to suppose. I come now to consider what are the circumstances under which the Ennis meeting was proclaimed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, in his last 361 words, appears to me to convey his final impression. He did not arrive at any decision as to whether the Government were right or wrong in proclaiming the Ennis meeting. Is that his view? Because, if so, having stated an opinion, in a few minutes afterwards he proceeded to say that he had formed no opinion whatever. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE dissented.] I have not caught the exact meaning the right hon. Gentleman intended to convey; but I have quoted him accurately. Does the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary think that the state of the neighbourhood in which a meeting is to be held is a legitimate matter for the Government to consider at all? Does it enter into the question? I say that it does. It is a vital matter to consider what is the state of the place where the meeting is to be held. Does the right hon. Gentleman say, after what the Chief Secretary has told the House tonight, that the state of Clare was satisfactory; that there was no intimidation or danger to life; and that it was a place where inflammatory speeches inciting to violations of the law might be made with impunity? That is a matter which must have escaped his attention. Again, I may ask, is it or is it not material, in considering whether a meeting ought to be proclaimed, to take into account the declared intentions of some of the speakers and their fixed policy. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) has declared that he would continue to pursue the same policy of intimidation—that system of Boycotting and oppression which has brought so much misery to the people of Ireland. The hon. Member who was recently elected for one of the divisions of Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) made a speech a short time ago in which he advised, that if the Government suppressed the meetings and branches of the National League in any country, the members of these branches should hold their meetings with closed doors. [Cries of "Hear, hear!" from Irish Members.] Hon. Members below the Gangway applaud and approve of that sentiment. Is it not a distinct violation of the law? If there are powers contained in an Act of Parliament, is it not a distinct incitement to a violation of the law, whether hon. Gentlemen may like them or not, to say that the person who violates such powers is free from moral blame? I say that the 362 speeches of hon. Members and their declared policy, taken in conjunction with what happened afterwards at the meeting, show that the Government were justified in the action which they took. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has called attention to the banners and emblems which were there unfurled. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby is aware, from what the Chief Secretary said, that the only meeting which was proclaimed by Lord Spencer under the ordinary law was the meeting on the 24th of November, 1883, to celebrate the memory of the three Manchester martyrs. Does the right hon. Gentleman and the late Prime Minister think that that celebration was of an innocent character and design? Would they have gone to it themselves? Have their opinions so far changed that they would like to take part in a meeting which was proclaimed by Lord Spencer under the ordinary law? "Was Lord Spencer acting in a spirit of legality in 1883? And if it was illegal in 1883, is it more legal to eulogize those martyrs at meetings in 1887? There have been circumstances which tend to show that if these meetings had not been proclaimed the language used at them would have been of a violent character. Stones were thrown, and it was necessary for the police to make a movement before the stone throwing was discontinued. Later on in the evening the police were attacked in the town with bricks and bottles, and some people were arrested in consequence. I do not think it possible to doubt, having regard to the disturbed state of Clare, to the emblems displayed in the town, to the very large assemblage of persons, and to all the circumstances of the case, that it would have been very wrong for the Government not to interfere. What would have been the alternative policy? Were the Government to wait until the meeting had been held, and then to bring the people into collision with the police, the result of which would have been a serious catastrophe? One of the stronger arguments for the Proclamation of the meeting is that, with the facts before us, we are able to say that the dangers with which the peaceful inhabitants of Clare were menaced have been averted without disaster and without bloodshed. It is not necessary for 363 me to refer, in greater detail, to what occurred at the Ennis meeting. I submit to the judgment of the House that the Government acted well within their constitutional rights in proclaiming the meeting, and that they would have abandoned their constitutional duty if they had failed to proclaim it. I submit that the grounds of constitutional law upon which we relied are the same as were relied on by the right hon. Gentleman's Government, and that it is only to-night that they were discovered by the right hon. Member for Derby to be entirely fallacious and wrong. I do not see how old letters are to outweigh the constitutional grounds of action, or to overule decided cases.
§ MR. GIBSON
Is it to be suggested now that the opinions which have again and again been given as to the power of the Executive to proclaim meetings—repeated deliberately in this House—is it to be tolerated, for one moment, that those opinions which were given as to the power of the Executive are to be disavowed without one word of explanation by the right hon. Gentleman who was a party to all the Proclamations? I now pass from the Ennis Proclamation to the second matter referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman, I suppose, intends to practice what he preaches. He commenced his observations about the Mitchelstown occurrence by lamenting what he deems the reckless defence of the police, which my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary made. He said that my right hon. Friend, in his responsible position, ought to have held the scales evenly, and ought not to have indicated any opinion whatever, but to have reserved the matter for future inquiry. But what are the facts? The right hon. Gentleman must recollect that we were pressed again and again in this House for official information; and when we gave it, we were told that it came from a tainted source. I say that my right hon. Friend would not have discharged his duty if, believing the official testimony he had received to be true, he had not indicated that belief to the House, especially when that official testimony was so fiercely assailed, 364 The right hon. Gentleman referred to many matters as to which he intimated that he had a strong leaning of opinion which was not in favour of the action of the Irish Constabulary. He said that the police had wantonly forced their way through the crowd, that there was no breach of the peace before, and that it was only by their own foolhardiness that the unfortunate collision was brought about. Now, that appears to me to be a strong and a very dangerous prejudging of the vital part of the case. In the first place, he condemned the Government for acting on the reports of their own responsible officials—[An hon. MEMBER: The police.]—instead of newspapers. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to advance a proposition very alarming, very dangerous to the administration of the law in Ireland, and in complete departure from and contradiction to everything done in Ireland by his own Executive. Nobody ever, until this debate, thought that any Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench would have questioned the right of the Government to have a police reporter present to take a note of the speeches made when the Government considered it necessary for the public safety. Nor did the right hon. Gentleman discover before that it was an unwarrantable and impertinent intrusion on the part of the police to make their way into a public meeting. The right hon. Gentleman made his speech with a full knowledge of the circumstances which surrounded the Mitchelstown meeting. The night before the meeting the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) announced that he would not obey the order of the Court to attend his trial. Advertisements had been inserted in United Ireland calling on the different branches of the League to go and hold an indignation meeting under the walls of the Court House to testify the opinion of the people as to the course the Crown was taking. Accordingly, 3,000 or 4,000 men did muster on the day of the trial in pursuance of those advertisements, and there were among them some of the gentlemen who were present on the preceding night, when the hon. Member for North-East Cork definitely declared that he would disobey the order of the Court, and who had gone down to attend the meeting. It is in a meeting of that character, composed of men coming from strange counties, armed with bludgeons, 365 and, as described by The Freeman's Journal, with a force of mounted cavalry, that the right hon. Gentleman throws doubt, for the first time, as to the propriety of protecting the police reporter in the crowd. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby seems to have learned some new law, and to have forgotten some old law. As long ago as the 29th of March, 1881, the right hon. Gentleman said—If it were necessary in the interests of law and order, to send note-takers to public meetings in England, it would be done as it is in the case of Ireland."—(3 Hansard,  152.)Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the law he then stated was correct or not; or has he since learned that it was erroneous? Now, what is necessary in the interests of law and order? Who is to decide what are the interests of law and order? Is it the persons present at the meeting; or is it the responsible Government? Assuredly the right hon. Gentleman will not pretend to convey that it is Competent for persons to hold meetings in a public street, or a public thoroughfare, under such circumstances, and not competent for the guardians of public order to have a reporter present to take cognizance of what is going on, in order to give evidence afterwards. Yet that is the great point of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman's proposition is that a public meeting may be held, as it was in Mitchelstown, with an enormous force of men, who, as was afterwards shown, were prepared to resort to extreme measures, and that it is by the mere permission and indulgence of the speakers, and the crowd of people present, that the police reporter can be there at all.
§ MR. GIBSON
The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten his speech. He was perfectly dialectic, in his reasoning. He stated that it was a matter of prudence for the Executive Government; but he distinctly added that they had no right.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I said that the reporter, like everybody else, had a right to attend a meeting to which everybody was invited.
§ MR. GIBSON
He distinctly stated that the police reporter had no greater rights than the men in the crowd, though he is ordered to attend the meeting.
§ MR. GIBSON
What was the meaning of the words of the right hon. Member for Derby—If it were necessary, in the interests of law and order, to send note-takers to public meetings in England, it would be done as it is in the case of Ireland?Did that mean that a crowd of 4,000 persons was to punch the police reporter in the ribs if they liked, to knock him about, and to keep him out? I regret that the right hon. Gentleman should have made a speech which appears to contradict the previous legal speeches delivered by Members of his own Ministry, and also opposed to the invariable practice in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman having intimated that the police reporter was a man to be resisted with impunity, that he had brought the attack upon himself, in desiring to take notes against the wish of the meeting, proceeded to state that there were questions affecting the action of the police in regard to which he had grave doubts. The right hon. Gentleman asked, in one part of his speech—"Where were the heads of the police? "I think it would be inconvenient and undesirable, and in that I yield to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary, if I was to go into any detail as to the circumstances of the Mitchelstown case. The circumstances have been referred to already, in general terms by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. There are, however, some minor points to which I may refer, because it appears to me they do not necessarily involve any undue assumption as to the circumstances of the case. Some observations have been made as to the time at which the disturbance took place. Captain Seagrave, the Resident Magistrate, thought that as the business of the Court was over, that there would be no disturbance, and I believe he went to Mr. Eaton's. The whole matter lusted a very short time, and Captain Seagrave did not appear in the street, I believe, until the whole matter was at an end. Responsible officers of the police, the County Inspector and the District Inspector, were there, and it is upon their testimony that my right hon. Friend has made his statement to-night. It is, I think, better for me not to go into any detail under the circumstances. I con- 367 fess I think my right hon. Friend could not have done less than he has done in stating for the information of the House, the information he had himself received, and of the accuracy of which he had certainly satisfied himself. My right hon. Friend would have done less than his duty, after the fierce attacks made upon the police, if he had not stated the information which he relied upon, and which influenced his judgment. The right hon. Member for Derby, following in the same direction as the late Prime Minister, has stated that the same meetings would continue to be held in Ireland.
§ MR. GIBSON
That is the statement of the late Home Secretary at any rate. Am I to understand that that is a statement with which the right hon. Gentleman opposite agrees?
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Pray do not understand anything about it. I said nothing about it, and I have nothing to say.
§ MR. GIBSON
The right hon. Gentleman observes an attitude of judicious caution, and, in my opinion, he is acting with great wisdom. If the late Home Secretary will take my advice, having regard to the bloody scenes enacted at Mitchelstown, the fearful injuries inflicted upon the police, and to what may happen elsewhere he will take a like course.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
It is important that what I said should not be misunderstood. I said that I hoped the people of Ireland would continue their claim to hold meetings, and if the Government chose unconditionally to suppress them, I hoped they would not be forcibly resisted.
§ MR. GIBSON
I think there is much greater elasticity in the later form of the right hon. Gentleman's expression, but I am willing to take the right hon. Gentleman's later statement. The circumstances of the meeting at Mitchelstown were, as I have said, of a very serious nature. It is impossible to deny that it was dangerous for the administration of public justice to hold a meeting of 3,000 or 4,000 persons within sight of the Court House on the day that the trial might have taken place there. The right hon. Gentleman must see that, and indeed, it was admitted the other 368 evening. Suppose the trial had actually been going on. Suppose a jury had actually been deciding the case, could it have been tolerated that this great mass of men should have been brought into the town? Could it be tolerated that the police reporter who attempted to take a note of what was going on should be treated as an impertinent intruder, who might be kicked, hustled, and beaten? One of the most remarkable points in the matter, I am sorry to say is that the police reporter, a sergeant of police, was a man who gave evidence only shortly before. Another man, Constable Leahy, also received serious injuries. It is easy for hon. Members in this House to talk about the public right of meeting, but when regard is had to what happened at Mitchelstown, and to what may occur elsewhere, hon. Gentlemen should be careful in their language with respect to the Executive responsibility. Our position is not made easier for us by the language used here by great statesmen to-night. In circumstances of great danger surrounded by peril, we shall endeavour to do our duty to the loyal people of Ireland, and to carry out the proper administration of the law.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I rise, Sir, for the purpose of stating to the House the facts of which I was an eyewitness at Mitchelstown on Friday last; and although I partly recognize the very great importance of the questions involved in the suppression of the meeting at Ennis, and would gladly say something on that matter, the proceedings at Mitchelstown have become of such vast importance, and have so excited public interest, I think I had better confine myself to describing what occurred there. And now, Sir, I would first ask this question. We have heard from the Chief Secretary and the Attorney General denunciations as to the impropriety of holding a meeting at Mitchelstown that day. What I want to ask the officers of the Government is this—Do they consider that it was wrong to hold a meeting at Mitchelstown on that day; and, if so, in view of the declarations which they have made as regards the power of the Executive Government in Ireland to proclaim and prohibit any meeting in Ireland which they considered dangerous and improper, why did they not proclaim and prohibit the meeting at Mitchelstown that day? They had 369 experience of the meeting in Ennis, and what was their experience as they boasted here to-day? That the meeting, when ordered to disperse, did disperse peacefully. We have been sneered at because the people dispersed at Ennis peacefully; that is the reward we get. The Times newspaper called us cowards because we did not storm the hill at Ballycoree, but dispersed peacefully. I have always said that I intended to assert the right of public meeting in Ireland; but I shall always advise the people not to be made silly by the miserable taunts of The Times newspaper, but to yield to force, when the force is exercised, although illegally; and if the meeting had been prohibited at Mitchelstown, my advice to the people would have been to hold no meeting, or to hold it outside the town where no disturbance could have arisen. The meeting was not prohibited; and what occurred? We started from the town of Cabir in company with a number of English people in several carriages, and when we reached within one mile of Mitchelstown we met a multitude of people and the local managers of the demonstration. The first question I asked of the gentleman who had charge of the proceedings at Mitchelstown was, if the authorities had prohibited the meeting. And his reply was—"No; we have already been allowed to parade through the town while the trial was going on. We passed in procession by the Court House, and a police officer came out and said, 'I will not allow the bands to play while passing here, lest it should interfere with the proceedings.' We ordered the bands to cease playing, and passed by the Court House in silence, and on these conditions the police were withdrawn, and we were allowed to proceed with our procession." That was the statement made to me a mile outside Mitchelstown. "In that case," I said, "you will be allowed to hold a meeting?" "Certainly; so I understand," the gentleman replied. What I say is this—if the authorities in the town, with their full military and police force at their back, allowed a procession of something like 8,000 people to pass by the Court House without remonstrance, and with approval—because they actually entered into an agreement to withdraw the police, on condition that we silenced our bands, 370 which we did—I say, if the authorities allowed that to be done while the Court was sitting, how on earth could it be supposed that any objection would be held or taken to our holding a meeting in the square at Mitchelstown two hours after the Court rose? And now let me draw the attention of the House to this circumstance. I heard in astonishment, for the first time, where the Special Resident Magistrate was—the magistrate in command of the whole of the forces at Mitchelstown—I heard just now where he was. We sought for him and could not find him anywhere, and nobody knew where he was. Where was he when the row commenced? When the Court rose, although he knew a meeting was to be held in about two hours, he, thinking no disturbance could possibly arise, having seen the whole of our people march past him in procession, and seen the very peaceful attitude of the people, with secret information in his possession, and considering from the state of the town that no tumult could possibly arise, he went to see Mr. Eaton. Of course, he went to have a glass of punch and some social enjoyment with the Resident Magistrate of the town, and they were shut up enjoying themselves when the row commenced. I will leave the House to digest this circumstance. What was the next step which occurred? We proceeded to the town of Mitchelstown with this procession, which was a very fine one, and we passed through the square and by the Court House. The police were stationed at the corners; but, Sir, nobody uttered an insulting word to the police, nor did any angry word pass between them and the mass of the people. We passed through the square and went round the town, and came back again after about half an hour. Now comes the next question I want to put to the Government. Why, in the case of this meeting, of which they had full notice, did they depart from the universal practice, as I know perfectly well has been the universal practice in Ireland with regard to the Government reporters? What is that practice? A hon. Gentleman, whose experience of Irish politics is not so great as mine, stood up and made a silly observation. He said.—"Are the officers to submit to the humiliation of asking the promoters of the meeting for accom- 371 modation for their Government reporter? "Will the right hon. Gentleman be surprised to know that the officers of law in Ireland have submitted, to that humiliation to me personally at least 100 times? The officers of the law in Ireland have asked me to give accommodation and protection to the Government reporter on the platform, and on this condition—that if I consented to do so they would entirely withdraw the police from the precincts of the meeting. That has been the practice in Ireland, as I stated on a previous occasion; and I defy any officer to contradict me—in fact, no one would do so. I have always exercised all the influence I have to get Government reporters a seat on the platform, although they did not contend they had a right to it. They knew they had no right to be there; but I always used my influence to get them a seat on the platform; and the officials in Mitchelstown must have known that, wherever I went, my influence has always been exercised to protect the Government reporter and get him a seat; and yet, in face of that, they never asked for this permission from the promoters of the meeting. I believe the argument used was, that there was some uncertainty as to where the platform was to be. There is not a shadow of foundation for the statement. When we passed through the square half an hour before the meeting commenced there was a platform, consisting of two drags from which the horses had been removed, and when we arrived the meeting was largely assembled around. There would be 4,000 or 5,000 persons there, and the drags were full of representatives of the Press and priests, so that it was perfectly obvious where the platforms would be; and if they had adopted the ordinary course, and asked me to accommodate the reporter in the drag, I would have used my best influence to do so. Why did they not do the next best thing? What do they do if they are refused accommodation? They invariably plant the police reporter in the vicinity of the platform before the meeting assembles. We heard a good deal of eloquent talk about the rights of a police reporter. I do not know what right he has, except to occupy the position which he takes up, and not to be molested. That is the right which I have never sought to 372 deny him; and it is his business and duty to take up his position before the crowd assembled in any great multitude. I have never, in the whole course of my experience of public meetings in Ireland, which is, perhaps, greater than that of any other man in this House, seen an attempt made after a meeting had commenced to rush and fight a passage through the thickest portion of a crowd, in order that the police reporter might get into the centre. Then, I ask, why was this universal practice departed from at Mitchelstown? And I say, so far from the ordinary course being pursued in the case of Mitchelstown, with regard to this delicate question of a police reporter, a totally novel course was adopted, one without precedent in the history of Irish public meetings; a course which, had it been generally adopted, would, unless a miracle had occurred, have infallibly led to disturbance. There were about 8,000 people around the platform; and the crowd was so thick in its vicinity that it would have taken the utmost exertions to get through the meeting. But after the chairman had begun to speak, at the thickest portion of the crowd, and plump in front of the platform, a body of 20 police arrived with a reporter in their midst, and proceeded to force their way through the crowd towards the platform. A noise immediately arose, the people shouldered the police, and turned round, and an altercation arose. Two gentlemen on the platform, jumping down, forced their way through the crowd, and threw themselves between the police and the people, and with their umbrellas beat our men back from the police and prevented all disturbance. And here comes a point of the utmost importance, and which I will prove beyond all yea or nay. It is of the utmost importance, because it is in the beginning of matters like this that the blame lies on one side or the other. This primary disturbance was quelled. Somebody in the waggon suggested I should get up now, and that there would be no danger of trouble. I got up and addressed the meeting for a few minutes, and the police at that moment retired a little, and stood outside the outermost skirt of the crowd, and the meeting became perfectly peaceful and orderly. This is a matter which has been overlooked. A distinct interval occurred during which the row com- 373 pletely quieted down—to use the words of The Irish Times' correspondent—and the meeting was absolutely peaceful and orderly. The Irish Times' correspondent says—Then a large body of police came marching up the hill to the aid of their discomfited comrades.You must recollect that up to this moment no blow had been struck or stone thrown; and you must remember this fact—that up to this moment and to the last, because I saw him after he had got back to the barrack, no hand was raised or blow struck at Condron the reporter. Nobody had a word against Condron, no blow was struck at him, and even the little band of 12 police, after the first angry altercation, stood beside our people, and there was no disturbance and no anger between them. I read on from The Irish Times' correspondent, because the paper is an unfriendly paper—Mr. Dillon said: Men of Mitchelstown, I ask you to pay no more attention to those men, but let us proceed with this great meeting in a spirit of order and of peace, which will do credit to the men of this district, and will show (slight interruption) to the world that the people of this great country have felt in their hearts the approach of victory which is certain and soon at hand.What does The Irish Times' correspondent go on to describe?—The police then marched up, and it became apparent they were determined to carry out their orders to place Condron in a position where he could hear.The correspondent then alludes to what has been called mounted cavalry, but who are simply farmers who ride on horseback—These men [says the correspondent] were, indeed, scarcely in a position to move, so close was the press. The police drew their batons and struck the flanks of the horses severely. They tried to go forward, jumped to the side, reared, and created around them such a clearance that the police were able to advance, and take up the position in which they formerly stood. Here the passage was blocked again, and they proceeded to force their way, using the muzzles of their rifles.That was the way the struggle commenced. At this stage of the proceedings, while the police were trying to force their way on, I saw one stone come from the outskirts of the crowd, go high in the air, and drop among the police. I saw no other stones thrown. In a second the police were batoning everyone around them, and men fell beneath the 374 blows as if a hail storm of shot had been sent in among them. We have heard a great deal about the blackthorns of the Tipperary men. The truth is that very few had blackthorns with them. I can tell you that if the Tipperary men brought their blackthorns in any numbers you would have heard very little of the 50 police. Of the people around the police, eight out of every nine had nothing in their hands but ash plants, for they never even dreamt of a row. An ash plant, I may tell you, is a riding cane. It may cut a man in the face; but would not knock a man down. I saw many a fine young fellow knocked down by the batons of the police, and the few who had sticks fought hard. And now as to the injuries received by the police. It has been said that the police had to fly for their lives, and had a great many injuries inflicted on them. Do not believe it. For every one of the police injured there were four of the people. The police reported that 56 of their number were seriously hurt; but what does The Standard correspondent say this morning? He says—In the accounts furnished by the police there was much exaggeration as regards the injured last night. The number of injured given was 54; but the actual list of wounded is less than 20, and only one man seriously hurt.The police, as you can see from this, grossly exaggerated the nature of their injuries. I watched the progress of the fight, which, so far as I can guess, lasted three minutes. I have only got this to say with regard to the fight—that from the time it commenced to the time the police ran away, they were advancing regularly into the crowd towards the platform, dispersing the crowd about them. They were not attacked—they were the aggressors. From the moment the first blow was struck to the moment they broke and fled, they fought their way through the crowd with clubbed rifles and with batons, and men seemed to go down in ranks beneath their blows. The great body of the crowd, having nothing in their hands, dispersed, and there were at no time more than about 200 engaged with the police; but in a few minutes, when they saw their friends treated in this manner, a certain portion of them got together and stoned the police, and the police then turned and lied back to barracks. I come now 375 to the most important part of my statement with regard to what occurred when the police fled. I am in a position to be extremely accurate. I first went to a carriage where there were five of the six English ladies, and advised them to go into shelter. I must say that they showed very great pluck during the whole affair. I succeeded in persuading them to go into the priest's house, and then I got two priests who were standing near me to go with me to the barrack to see the Resident Magistrate. The square was covered with people, and I told them not to follow me, and I left four or five priests to keep them from going towards the barrack. Accompanied by the two priests I walked towards the barrack. The distance from, the waggonette to the corner of the square is about 200 yards. When we got to this corner we turned to the right up the street, and the distance to the barrack door was exactly 62 yards. We walked to the barrack door. There was not a single policeman in the street, and the door of the barrack was shut and bolted. I am ready to swear—and recollect this was only about three minutes from the time the police turned and fled—I am ready to swear that there were not 20 men within 60 yards of the barrack door. I stood at the barrack door and knocked. I was right in the line of fire if stones were thrown. No stone could touch the barrack without my seeing it; there was no crowd in the street, and up to this no shot was fired. We knocked at the door, and a voice inside asked what we wanted. I said "Mr. Dillon and the priests are here," and that we wanted to see the commanding officer, with a view of preserving the peace. The barrack door was then unbarred and opened, and we were admitted. How, then, can any hon. Member say that a furious crowd was storming the barracks? The door was unbarred and opened. We walked into the hall and entered into conversation with the commanding officer, and during this time the door was left open after us. No stone was flung, no crowd collected in the street, for all the time two of the three priests stood at the coiner of the square, and kept the people back from following me. We found the barrack hall thronged with policemen. If there were any wounded policemen we did 376 not see them. I asked for the commanding officer, and was pointed out an old gentleman with a grey moustache. He was like a lunatic, tearing up and down the room in an excited state. I stopped him and said—"I have come here with two priests. We want you to kindly keep the men in barracks for a few minutes, and give us a chance of clearing the streets. We undertake to clear the town," and I impressed on him that what we wanted was to avoid bloodshed. "No, Sir; no, Sir;" he said, "I will do nothing of the sort. My men must form in the streets at once." I caught hold of him and said—" For God's sake give a chance before you send the men out on the street." "No," said he, "I won't have any dictation from you," or something of that sort. He spoke to some constables, and they collared the two priests who were with me, and pitched them out of the barrack; they also laid bands on me, and tried to shove me out of the barrack. I succeeded in dodging them, and getting in beside the wall got to the rear of the police. Then the County Inspector and two of the three police passed out of the door, which was open all this time. I heard a struggle at the door, and saw the police returning, dragging two men after them. The door was then closed and barred, and the firing commenced. I find it difficult now to ask English Gentlemen to believe what I am going to tell. I stood near the door and saw these two men dashed on the floor of the hall, and actually eight or 10 constables stooped over these men and beat them with their batons while they lay on the floor. I called out—"Are you going to murder the men before my eyes? "and the constables turned on me savagely, but they did not strike me. One of them said to me—" You ruffian, this is the sort of thing you get up in the country; I'll hold you responsible." In a moment I saw the flash of steel, and saw that one of the constables had drawn his bayonet, and was making a lunge with all his force at one of the men on the floor, when a young officer, who, I am bound to say, was the only decent man I found in the place, caught the constable by the arm and said—" No more of that." That I saw with my own eyes. The other constables continued to beat the two men with their batons; and all the 377 time the two men were huddled together upon the floor with their heads under them to protect them from the blows. The tiring was going on all the time from the upper windows. The County Inspector again appeared; he seemed to be in a state of demoralization, running; up and down like a madman, and seemed to have completely lost his head. I caught hold of this man, and said—"For God's sake stop this firing, and give me a chance." I supposed at the time that the people had collected out-side the barrack; I could not conceive that men would fire out of the top window unless a crowd were at the doors, A young officer came up just at this moment. The County Inspector would give me no satisfaction; and this young officer, whose name I believe is Knox, the District Inspector of Bansha, came up, and he said—"I think Mr. Dillon ought to get a chance. Let us ask him to speak to the people from the top window." I said that I would do so immediately; and I rushed upstairs, thinking all the time that there was a crowd in front; but when I got to the top of the stairs a tumultuous crowd of policemen tumbled out of three or four rooms on the top story, and tumbled downstairs in a wild state of confusion, tumbling me with them. I went to the County Inspector again, and I said to him—" For God's sake, before you do anything further, give me at least a chance. If you won't let me speak from the top window put me out of the door, and I will engage to put the crowd away—at any rate let me try." He refused again, and said he must form his men on the street. At that moment the young officer came up again, and said—"Mr. Dillon ought to be allowed to have a chance." the young officer then ordered the doors to be opened himself, and they opened the doors at his command. I suppose some of the policemen were inclined to do so themselves. They unbolted the door, and when the door was unbolted there was nobody outside. I walked out, expecting to see a crowd that would have to be dispersed, and I found nobody; and there were not 10 men within 60 yards of the barrack. I walked straight across the line of fire, and the first sight I saw was a man lying dead, with the roof of his head blown off, 100 yards from the barrack. I would now ask hon. Members to recall 378 to their minds the astonishing statement of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The Chief Secretary never saw Mitchelstown, and they did not take the trouble to draw for him a diagram of the place when they were sending him their story. What did he say? He said—I state deliberately that the firing was not the random firing; of men in a panic. It was the deliberate firing of men acting under the instructions of their officers, who told them to fire only on those who were attacking the barracks.Now, who was the first man shot dead? The first man killed was a man entirely I out of the range of stones, and he must I have been deliberately aimed at according to the Chief Secretary. He was standing in the square about 30 yards beyond the corner of the square. That is at least 100 yards from the barracks. That man, whom I saw lying in a pool of blood as I walked across the square, must have been deliberately aimed at. Where did the two other shots, charges of buckshot, go? They lodged in the window opposite the barrack, a second story window. There were a number of children looking on at the proceedings, and one of the shots hit by the edge of the window, and drove the masonry in about the children's ears. The poor nursery maid who had charge of the children pulled them away, and then fell down in a faint. That was the second of the deliberate shots which the Chief Secretary speaks of; and the marks of other shots are all about the houses opposite the barracks. [Mr. BRUNNER: Hear, hear!] A great number of shots were fired, and it is my deliberate opinion, from looking at them, that some of the men fired their shots out of revenge for the blows under which they were smarting; and that others fired their shots out of sheer panic, without knowing where they were firing, that they just put their rifles to the window, and pulled the triggers without taking aim. Now, as to the alleged attack on the barrack, there is abundant and conclusive evidence to show that no such thing took place. Take, first, the condition of the barrack itself after all was over. Flow runny panes of glass were there in the barracks? There were nine or ten windows, and 160 panes, and out of these 160 panes three panes had one stone through each I went down the town the following day with my note 379 book, and I examined the barracks. There is one stone mark in the fanlight of the door, and there are three other panes broken by stones—apparently by stones, for the hole is star-shaped, and you can see that there is only one stone through each pane. There are marks of about eight or nine stones on the stanchions of the barrack front. That shows the whole nature of this savage attack. As to the kicking of the door, that must be an absolute myth, or else it must be owing to the fact that the police, in their hurry to get into the barrack, shut the door before all the police had arrived, because the crowd did not follow them at all. As to that, I have independent witnesses of most unquestionable character. If there was any kicking at the door, it must have been some of the police who were left behind in the rush, and who knocked violently at the door in their terror, and were admitted by their comrades. Here is what a correspondent of The Standard says with regard to the attack upon the barrack, and its condition afterwards—In the front of the barrack [says The Standard] there are 10 windows. Each contains 16 panes, and of the 160 panes only six are broken.I myself only saw three. The Standard correspondent says six. He goes on—Some of the broken glass lies outside.That means that some of the panes broken were the panes through which the policeman thrust their muskets.Some of the broken glass lies outside, as if the panes had been broken from the inside, while in two or three cases the shattered glass lies inside.Now listen to what The Standard correspondent says as to the character of the crowd. In the attack upon the barracks he says—When the first blow was struck, there was no possibility of controlling the Tipperary men, and they attacked the police like fury.Well, I admit that some of the Tipperary men fought very hard; but I utterly deny that they struck the first blow. The Standard goes on, and this is a most important point—A spectator describes the air as thick with sticks; but there is evidence that before the fleeing police had run to the bottom of the square the rancour of their assailants had cooled down, for they made no attempt to approach the barrack.380 Now that is the statement of The standard correspondent; and it absolutely and completely bears out the statement that I have been enabled to make upon my own authority, and from my own observation. Well, now I have here, and I am going to read, the evidence of a few independent observers, the only independent observers who have been called at all; because the Government have not called any independent observers, although there were 10 Englishmen and ladies who witnessed the whole thing, and they were by no means all Gladstonians. Home of them were strangers, who came there by accident, and who had no connection whatever with the meeting. There were two gentlemen from London—Mr. Turnbull and Professor Hudson—whom I never heard of before in my life, and whom I may never meet again; and there was also a Mr. Conbrough, a Scotch gentleman, who is, I am informed, a Liberal Unionist. I met him once travelling abroad some years ago, and I met him by the merest accident in Dublin, and he came down with us; but he had no connection whatever with the meeting. I will read you the testimony of Mr. Conbrough, who is, I have heard, a Liberal Unionist. [Opposition cries of "was" and cheers.]—I myself know absolutely nothing of the gentleman's politics. I had not seen him for many years; but he called upon me in Dublin, just as I was going to Mitchelstown, and he said he wanted to study the Irish Question. I said he would probably see something interesting at Mitchelstown, and he came along with us. What does he say about what occurred? He says, with regard to the second attack—and I should mention that he had not been able to force his way through the crowd, and remained on a car on the outskirts close to the police. He says about the second attack—While Mr. Dillon was speaking at this point, I noticed the police advance again, and make a tremendous attack upon the horses. The next thing after the battle was over that I saw was the police flying wildly down the square towards the barrack, the people pursuing, and throwing stones. I did not see the people pursue the police further than the corner of the square. I now crossed to the opposite side of the square—that next the police barrack—and endeavoured to get into some house, as I understood the police would return presently and make a bayonet charge; but all the doors were 381 locked, so I moved down the square, and when I got within a few yards of the corner, I heard shots fired, and I walked across the road towards the Court-house. I thought the police were firing blank cartridge to frighten the people. I got down. I saw about a dozen rifles through the upper windows of the police barrack blazing away. In the street "—and here is the most important part of his testimony, for he is the first witness in the street while the firing was actually going on——" in the street near the barrack there were few, if any, people at the time, and the whole street appeared to be almost empty. I tried to get into the Court-house; but they would not lot us in at the front door, so I had to go round a long way.This is the only independent witness who was in the street when the firing was going on, and his testimony is that there were few, if any, people at all in the neighbourhood of the barrack. I will finish with a quotation from an independent witness, who is the only witness dealing with the nature of the stone-throwing. It is taken from an account published by an eye-witness in this day's Irish Times, also an unfriendly source. He says—What I do know is this—that when I arrived, there were some men [he crossed after the police had fired]—there were some men out in the street throwing stones at the barrack, which was too distant for them to reach. Large stones were thrown in the direction of the barrack; but they also fell short of the door. It was when these stones were being thrown that the police fired the shots to which I have referred.Therefore, the account of this witness is that stones were fired in the direction of the barracks, which fell short of the mark. I would like to point out, I have quoted the testimony of a number of witnesses besides what I saw with my own eyes, which I think would be in itself sufficient to prove that all the talk about the attack on the barracks was absolutely without foundation. Every single witness unites in the statement that no such thing occurred, and that there was no justification for the firing at all. Here is a quotation which has just been supplied to me from the special report in another hostile paper, The Sunday Observer. The correspondent of that paper says—Having "witnessed the attack myself, I can bear testimony to the fact that whatever stones were thrown at the building from the corner of the square were thrown by a few small boys, who exposed themselves in the most foolhardy manner to the fusillade.382 The correspondent goes on to say that the best proof of "the trifling nature of the attack, if indeed it can be so described, is the condition of the barracks itself." Well, I ask, have I not made out a strong primâ facie case against the alleged attack on the barrack? Now, from whom did the Government get their report? Sea grave was not on the scene. Nobody could find him. Somebody said he had gone to find the Riot Act, which he had forgotten. Other persons said he was up in Mr. Eaton's. He was not on the spot. Therefore, he could not give an account of what took place. Was it from the County Inspector the Government had their story? I had him by the arm for a considerable time, and I can state, from my own knowledge, that he could not have seen—nor was he in the state of mind to judge of anything that was going on. I wish to ask on what witness the Government rely; and I say that the people of this country, as well as this House, will expect some independent and credible confirmation of this alleged attack on the barrack before they will be able to wash their hands of responsibility for the death of these men at Mitchelstown. When I left the barrack, I went through the square in company with some priests, and engaged in clearing the town, and in persuading all the people to go home, and to abandon all further attempt at holding a meeting. An incident then took place which I shall leave to speak for itself. Whilst we were engaged in clearing the square, a body of about 50 police, with rifles, appeared on the scene, and drew up in the middle of the square. They consisted chiefly, I believe, of a reinforcement who had charged into the square, batoning the people, after the first body had fled to their barracks. They had been attacked with stones, and had fled into the priests' house, and elsewhere, for refuge, and they were not followed into the houses. They emerged, and were joined by another body of police, and these 50 or 60 men drew up in the middle of the square. Recollect that some of these men were cut and bleeding; some of them had been struck with stones. The square was full with people. Many of our men were cut also. A drunken man, or a thoughtless child, could have flooded the square with blood in live minutes; because both this large body of police, 383 and the large crowd of people standing there, were smarting from their wounds. I asked where was the commanding officer? They did not know. I asked another man. There was no commanding officer. I said—" Where is Captain Seagrave?" The man said—" I don't know." "Can anybody find him?" "I don't know anything about him." "Who is your commanding officer?" "The only commanding officer we have is the Head Constable." I asked the Head Constable, "Are you in command?" He said, "I believe lam." I asked the Head Constable to take his men back to the barrack. He replied—"I cannot stir the men; I have no authority." "Where is the officer to be got?" '"I do not know, Sir." Now, is not that a nice state of things? For five or ten minutes these men were drawn up on the square without an officer, some of them wounded; and all I could do was to get five or six priests, and as many people of influence as I could, to stand around them as near as possible, because the square was like a powder magazine, and one stone would have caused the police to fire. Fortunately a young officer arrived, and strayed across the square, and took command at once. I said to him—" Would it not be well to take these men to the barrack? I will give you my word that we will clear the town." "I think so," said he, and ordered them to barrack at once. That was the next stage of the proceedings, and then we proceeded with the work of clearing the town; and then the great hero of the day arrived upon the scene, with a cigar in his mouth, and with him arrived 60 military. The military at that moment marched across the square. I followed them down, and they drew up in line, facing down the town, away from the barrack. For the last 10 minutes we had been driving the people down in that direction away from the barrack, and the street was thronged with people. We had massed the people down there, and the priests were engaged in shoving them gradually out of the town. At that moment Seagrave appeared with a cigar in his mouth, and with his hands in his pockets. He came marching along. I walked up to him and said—" Surety you will not bring the troops down that part of the town, "where we have got all the people removing out of the town?" 384 "Very likely," said he. There had been no disturbance in the town for the last quarter of an hour, and there was no man who had spared himself to get the people away. The only answer I got from him was—"Very likely." "For goodness sake don't do that, we are doing our best to get all the people out of the town." He turned away and used some oath. I could not exactly say what it was; but so far as I could make out it was—" I am not here to answer the questions of every damned Jackanapes that chooses to address me." I walked away. We worked away for two or three hours endeavouring to get the town clear; but all the danger of a disturbance appeared over, and the best proof of the correctness of my judgment was that this young officer agreed with me that the best thing to do was to get the police to the barrack. I hope I have not injured his chance of promotion by mentioning his name. I do believe that it was largely owing to his action that we were spared the loss of any more lives in Mitchelstown. That is all I have got to say about the case. I do not wish to use strong language about it. I think the case speaks for itself. We in Ireland have felt bitterly the cruel taunts which have been levelled at our heads by The Times newspaper. When we disperse quietly we are called cowards. We were told, when we did not lead an unarmed multitude to storm the hill of Ballycoree against the armed forces of the Crown, that we were cowards; we were told, because we did not lead the people up to storm the barrack at Mitchelstown, that "the chivalry of Tipperary was not rallied." That is the way in which The Times newspaper seeks to preserve the peace. I have never altered in the advice which I have given to the people in this regard, nor shall I alter it on the provocation of base and cowardly sneers like those. The people of Tipperary, when armed and disciplined, and well led, have shown on many a hard fought field that they are slow to turn their backs on any foe. But now, if they show a peaceable disposition, and disperse when called upon to do so by the armed forces of the Crown, they are told that they are cowards because they do not assail armed men without arms themselves. As I have said, notwithstanding this provocation of threats and 385 insults, I shall not alter the advice I have always given to the people of Ireland; and while we in Ireland shall continue to hold our meetings in spite of Proclamations, my advice will always be to the people, when required by the forces of the Crown, to disperse without violent resistance, putting the Government to the shame of violating the law, and allow the cruel wrong of using force to disperse these meetings, not opposing force by force, but leaving the Government in the face of the democracy of England to break the law and break up these peaceable meetings—convinced as I am that by pursuing this policy we shall raise in this country such a storm of popular indignation that the hour will soon come when we in Ireland shall have the same right of public meeting which you have struggled for and persisted in maintaining in England.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Padding ton, S.)
Although, Mr. Speaker, this Parliamentary Session has been protracted beyond all precedent, and although the labours of hon. Members have been hard beyond all record which our Parliamentary annals tell of, still I do not myself regret, and I do not think that any Member who has been present this evening will regret, that this debate has taken place. In the first place, it occurs to me that when any great tragedy has occurred which has moved people's minds, it is well that Parliamentary debate as to the facts of that occurrence should be immediate and prompt; and, in the second place, from a Party point of view, I can conceive nothing more satisfactory than that we should have had this debate, because I can imagine nothing which is more likely to bring vividly before the country and to remind the country as to the nature of the straggle in which the Government and the Unionist Party are engaged with regard to the government of Ireland—the nature of the struggle, the difficulties to which the Government and the Party behind it had to contend with, and the unlimited resources of the opponents with whom they have to fight. The Election which brought this Parliament into being took place upon that struggle and upon that issue, though circumstances of one kind and another may have combined to remove the sharpness of the impression from the mind of 386 the people. I venture to say without hesitation that it will be difficult to find a precedent in our Parliamentary history for the conduct which ex-Ministers of the Crown have found it to be within their power to pursue. Sir, on questions of policy the largest latitude is allowed by our Parliamentary customs to the Opposition. I acquit hon. Members below the Gangway opposite from all blame for the action they have taken in this debate. I offer this remark rather to the Front Opposition Bench, and I doubt if you can find a precedent; and if you can find a precedent, I doubt whether it will be a precedent which will commend itself to the minds of the leaders of the Opposition, for ex-Ministers of the Crown to hurry up specially to town in a demonstrative manner, in a manner calculated to excite public attention, not to oppose the Government on a question of policy, hut rather to bring to bear all the forces or their condemnation and all the weight of their influence on the Executive in its executive capacity. Never have I seen, during the 12 or 13 years that I have been in this House, and I do not suppose I shall ever see it again, such curious conduct as I have seen to-night on the part of ex-Ministers of the Crown. I have seen the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), I have seen the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. John Morley), I have seen the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), who was Home Secretary in a former Government—I have seen them sitting there on that Bench, and although they could have no knowledge whatever of what has taken place at Mitchelstown they have ostensibly identified themselves with every opinion, with regard to those occurrences, which has fallen from hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, and to such an extent has it been carried that every statement of fact which has been made by hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from below the Gangway has received the enthusiastic applause of the Leader of the Opposition. I believe conduct such as that to be unprecedented. It may be right; but how conduct such as this is to contribute to the stability of the Executive Government I tail to understand. [Interruption upon the Benches below the Opposition Gangway.] I listen with the utmost attention to the 387 remarks which hon. Gentlemen opposite address to the House, and I claim from them the same amount of patience for myself. I say that I fail to understand how conduct such as this upon the part of ex-Ministers of the Crown, and those who, perhaps, hope to be again Ministers of the Crown, is to contribute to the stability of the Executive Government. It seems to me that conduct such as this throws a lurid light upon the wild appeals which have been made by the Leader of the Opposition and his Colleagues to the Irish people to exercise patience in the coming crisis. We have had most impressive, and, indeed, pathetic appeals to the Irish people from that Bench opposite, not to allow the Government to provoke them into any act of resentment against the Executive Government; but what have we to think, and what have the Irish people to think, of the value of these appeals, when the most ferocious, unmitigated, and unlimited condemnation of the Irish police and of the Irish Government in this House receives the enthusiastic support and the enthusiastic applause of the Leader of the Opposition? Do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite think that the Irish people are unacquainted with what happens in this House? On the contrary, the Irish people throughout the length and breadth of Ireland are better acquainted with, what happens in this House than any similar portion of people throughout the United Kingdom. What do they see? They see the whole serried ranks of ex-Ministers bustling up to London in order to lend their sanction to every species of disgrace and abuse being poured upon the officers of the law and the- officers of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and his Colleagues are apparently under the impression that such a course of conduct and such a course of policy is likely to conduce to peace and to order in Ireland. That has struck me very much indeed. I do not know whether it has struck hon. Members opposite, or hon. embers on this side of the House; but I do assert, without fear of contradiction, that conduct of this kind on the part of ex-Ministers of the Crown, whether it is right or wrong, is without precedent in the annals of the House of Commons. Now, I come to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William 388 Harcourt), and, of course, I thought it very full of legal lore and of learning, some of which seemed to me to be musty, but all of which would have been interesting if Parliament had not been sitting for such a length of time. Under the circumstances, I think we might have been spared the lucubrations on the 18th century in which he indulged; but what has struck me about this whole business very much is, that not only has the conduct of the Opposition been unusual, but that the Opposition have made a great tactical blunder in putting up the ex-Home Secretary to lead the attack. If they had put up the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley), we should certainly have listened to anything which, fell from him with much more attention and respect than we listen to anything which falls from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. But there is this to be said—that it is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby to make a speech about law and order in Ireland which does not recall vividly to our minds speeches made by him, more forcible and more eloquent, in a sense diametrically opposed to that he delivered to-night, and that is why I say the Opposition have made a tactical blunder in putting him up to lead the attack. I remember there was once a gentleman who stood for a constituency in the South of England as a strong Protestant Unionist, but he was defeated. He was anxious to get into Parliament, and a friend of his, an Irishman, said to him—" I think I can get you a seat in the South of Ireland." He said—" Oh, yes; that will do very well; "but he said—" On what platform, shall I have to stand?" And his friend said—"Oh, as a strong Catholic Home Ruler." The gentleman who had been defeated said—" But won't it be rather a sudden change? "This Irish friend said—" Oh, dear, no; there will be no difficulty in the matter as long as you allow a decent interval to elapse." The great weakness of the right hon. Gentleman's (Sir William Harcourt's) position is, that he has not allowed a decent interval to elapse between his preaching of the doctrines of Lord Sidmouth and Lord Castlereagh and his preaching of the principles of Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke. He now preaches the principles of Mr. 389 Fox and Mr. Burke; but it is only about 12 months ago he was preaching the doctrines of Lord Sidmouth and Lord Castlereagh. That is a tactical blunder, and no amount of dialectical ingenuity will do away with it in the public mind. People cannot forgot that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby was the greatest exponent of the government of the bayonet, and therefore for him to act as he is now acting is either the depth of audacity or of burlesque. Well, now, Sir, what I want to ask the Front Opposition Bench is this. If they have such serious accusations to bring against the Government as they have brought to-night, if they identify themselves with all the expressions which have fallen from hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, why have they raised no definite issue in the House? Why have they confined themselves merely to making vague and inconclusive speeches? Why have they not brought their opinion to the test of the Division Lobby? Not only have they not set up any distinct issue, not only have they not ventured to propose to the House any definite Amendment, but I believe that the House has never been called upon to discuss a more confused and indefinite issue. We have two questions before us. We have, in the first place, before us the question of the general conduct of the Government in regard to public meetings in Ireland, as exemplified in the case of the Ennis meeting. And, in the second place, we have the other question with regard to the action of the Executive at Mitchelstown, and the results which have flowed therefrom. Now, in my opinion, the House is not in a condition to decide upon the events at Mitchelstown. We have heard several statements upon the matter. We have heard the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), a lucid and impressive statement from his point of view, which I listened to with great attention; but we have also heard the statement of the Minister of the Crown, the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. A. J. Balfour), also extremely lucid, most impressive, and spoken evidently under the sense of heavy and great Ministerial responsibility. And then, Sir, we had the statement of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), which seems to me to resemble in its nature 390 certain newspapers which are now current, and to some extent popular, in the Metropolis, which convey their news to the public in paragraphs. The statement of the hon. Gentleman did not seem to me to be altogether connected. It was really a series of paragraphs which succeeded each other without much connection as far as I could make out. I put aside the statement of the hon. Member for Northampton, because I have difficulty in regarding him as altogether serious in this matter. I take the statement of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), and the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour), and I find that the evidence with regard to these occurrences is terribly conflicting; and I say it is quite impossible for the House by any means whatever to arrive at any conclusion as to whether the Executive have been right or wrong in this matter—there must be a judicial inquiry. The hon. Member for Northampton stated that the matter would not form the subject of a judicial inquiry, because the Government would take no notice of the affair. When the Coroner's jury returns a manifestly ridiculous verdict, that, no doubt, is no sufficient ground for the Government instituting criminal proceedings against the persons incriminated by that verdict; but the case is different where the verdict is not manifestly absurd. But, besides this, I believe it is in the power of any individual to go before a Grand Jury, and prefer an indictment against any individual; and if the Grand Jury believe that a primâ facie case has been made out, it will, in due course, go for trial. I believe I am right in saying that, therefore, there is no question whatever that if hon. Members wish that this matter should become the subject of judicial inquiry it must so become, and it is only a judicial inquiry which can determine the rights or the wrongs of the question which has been, put before the House by the hon. Member for East Mayo and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant; therefore I hope the hon. Member for East Mayo will not think me wanting in respect for him if I find myself quite unable to follow him controversially through the details of his very interesting statement. Rather 391 would I ask the indulgence of the House to allow me to examine for a few moments the great question of public meeting. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby declared that he had come up all the way from the New Forest to the House of Commons in order to vindicate the sacred right of public meeting in Great Britain, and to protest against the Irish peasants being deprived of this right. Well, I think he is giving himself most unnecessary trouble. I do not imagine that the right of public meeting is in the slightest danger in this country from anything which may have taken place in Ireland. There are public meetings and public meetings. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby said it was intended to hold public meetings throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain to denounce the conduct of the Government, and to denounce the conduct of the Executive—to denounce the proclamation of the National League, and to denounce the incidents at Mitchelstown. No one will interfere with him. No one has the slightest objection to his pouring out on the Government the whole vials, the whole collar of his wrath. I know no reason why the Government should fear, and, even if they had the right, why they should interfere with, the denunciation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. He has often denounced me, but I have never felt myself a bit the worse. It is, no doubt, within the power of the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues, if they should so think fit, and if they have the courage to take upon themselves the responsibility, to go to Ireland, and to address public meetings there, and to denounce in the manner in which they have done here the conduct of the Government. No one will object; but I greatly doubt whether they will go. I have the greatest possible doubt as to whether any responsible ex-Minister of the Crown is likely in the course of this year to visit Ireland for the purpose of making use of the strong language which they make use of in England. Time will show whether I am right. Now, this I put forward with great confidence, that all meetings in this country called for the purpose of reform of law, called for the purpose of the removal of popular grievances, are legal, and cannot be interfered with 392 legally by the Government. But all meetings called for the arrest of the process of law are illegal and must be prevented. Now, that is a broad and solid definition, and I hold clearly that the meetings at Ballycoree and Mitchelstown were not meetings called for the reform of law or for the removal of public grievances; but they were distinctly and essentially meetings called for the arrest of the process of law. That is the whole difference between the two things. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite suppose that any Judge in this country, or any Judge in Ireland, would have allowed any meeting to take place within any reasonable distance of his Court, when a trial was going on, if the meeting had relation to the matter under trial? There is no Judge who would not have had all the parties before him, if it were possible, and committed them for contempt of Court. There is no Judge who would not have called upon the Sheriff to summon the whole forces of the Sheriff to disperse such meeting. What is the difference between a meeting of that kind and the meeting at Mitchelstown, called to take place on the day, and at the very hour, when the trial—a very important trial—of a very popular leader, was going to take place? I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite will say that the meeting took place after the trial.
§ MR. DILLON
The meeting took place at the invitation of the police. We asked their permission, and got their permission.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
That is a new statement altogether, and it is a statement that the hon. Gentleman will pardon me in hesitating to accept. What I was saying was that the meeting was really called to take place during the trial, because, inevitably, if the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) had answered the summons and been present, the trial would have been going on while the meeting was taking place, and the result of the trial would probably have been known to the public just about the time the meeting was terminating. I cannot conceive what power would have prevented a collision between the persons holding the meeting and the police escorting, possibly, the prisoner from the Court House. Now, that exactly states the case. The meeting at Mitchelstown 393 was called to arrest, or to interfere, or to embarrass the proceedings of law; and as such I hold there can be no doubt whatever, in any reasonable person's mind, that it was a meeting wholly and grossly illegal.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
Oh; that is another question altogether which raises at once, what notice had the Government? It raises a whole heap of questions not brought before us. But the proclamation of a meeting does not make a meeting illegal. [Home Rule cheers.] That is no news to hon. Gentlemen opposite, though they cheer it. They are quite as well acquainted with public meetings as I am, and they know that the Government have no power to make a meeting illegal. It is the law which makes a meeting illegal, and not the Executive Government. If a meeting is called for an illegal purpose, and a meeting called to arrest the process of law must be illegal, no proclamation will make it illegal. Now I come to the more general question of meeting. What is the state of the case? Hon. Gentlemen who represent the National Party of Ireland have told us over and over again in the plainest manner, in this House and in their newspapers in Ireland, that they mean to leave no stone unturned to reduce the Criminal Law Amendment Act to a farce, and to bring its operation to naught. They have told us that in the plainest manner, in every way in which the information could be conveyed. Well, when the Act was passed a great meeting was called in County Clare, where crime has been peculiarly rife. A great meeting was called in order to instruct the people how they might best bring the operation of the law to naught, in order to instruct them how they should give evidence, and in order to instruct them how best to resist the police, in order to instruct them how best to continue meetings of the National League in case the Government should proclaim the League to be an illegal association, and in order to instruct them in every artifice and dodge by which the process of law might be resisted and impeded. I am told that this is perfectly legal, and that any interference with such a meeting upsets the fundamental liberties of the British people. 394 The argument will not, it appears to me, hold water for one moment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby used a very curious argument. He quoted Lord Eldon and Lord Erskine, and he said that in order to constitute the illegality of a meeting there must be some overt act of riot. I may point out that at Mitchelstown there was an overt act of riot. The resistance of the police is an overt act of riot. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have most curious notions as to the duties of the police. You have no right to resist the police—none whatever. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] I am prepared to argue that point with the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who looks very indignant. I say you have no right to resist the police. If a policeman does you injustice, if he assaults you, or takes you into custody, or orders you to move on, your remedy is before the magistrate.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I defy any lawyer in the House to contradict me. You have no right to resist a policeman by force. None—absolutely none. You may bring him before a magistrate, and if you can prove him to be in the wrong you can get the best of him. I hold this is undoubtedly the law. [Laughter] Well, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Northwich Division of Cheshire (Mr. Brunner) may laugh. I do not know what treatment is accorded to policemen in the Salt District; but I strongly advise him, however great may be his grievances against the police, not to resist them by force of physical strength, but to go before a magistrate, and if the policemen are in the wrong he will obtain his remedy. I say that if a party of policemen insist upon their right of entrance to a public meeting they are within their right, and all resistance to them is illegal. I have not the smallest doubt about it. At Mitchelstown the policemen escorting a Government reporter into a meeting were resisted by force of arms. [Cries of "No, no!"] They were not resisted by force of firearms, but by force of arms. That is a legitimate expression. I say that was an overt act of violence which was necessary, if anything was necessary, to constitute the meeting illegal. I must say I, myself, hold that the Government have a perfect right to take 395 whatever measures they think necessary for securing sworn testimony as to what passes at meetings where they have reason to believe seditious language may be used, or language calculated to provoke a breach of the peace, and the argument that the Government reporter had no right to force his way into the meeting has no weight with me. It is a most remarkable fact that the Government reporter was the person who was the principal witness in the case at the Police Court. I look upon it as most remarkable that not only was the Government reporter the principal witness against the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien), but that another Government witness has, I understand, been brought into the greatest possible bodily peril, and it is doubtful whether he will be able to give evidence in a Court of Justice. Now, if I may go through the process of argument which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dillon) goes through, and put not only two and two together, but far greater numbers together, I should say there is evidence that the deputations which came from different parts of the country to this rendezvous came for a particular destructive purpose. Certainly, some were mounted, and some were armed, and it is a most remarkable thing that the two people placed in the greatest peril were two persons who were likely to give evidence against the hon. Member for North-East Cork. I will not pursue that line of argument further; but I maintain it would not be one whit more untenable than the line of argument hon. Gentlemen have taken up, whether with regard to the general proposition as regards public meeting, or their special references to the circumstances at Mitchelstown. Now, Sir, we hear a great deal about the rights of the people in these matters, and no one would be more ready to stand up for those rights than I should be if I thought that the power of the Executive was being unfairly used against them. But there is such a thing as the rights of the Government, and the rights of the Government are very great, because the duties of the Government are very great. Now, I hold myself, despite the argument of the hon. Member for Northampton, subject, of course, to reasonable limitations, that there is nothing in reason which a Government cannot do. Nothing—ab- 396 solutely nothing. [Laughter.] Let hon. Members laugh if they choose, but let them do me the honour to listen to me. We listened to the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), who gave us some very curious doctrines, and I would certainly put the doctrines of common sense against his. I say that I hold that there is absolutely nothing within reasonable limits which a Government cannot do; and the only two checks that I know of upon the Executive are these—first, the check of a Court of Law, and, next, the check of Parliament. They may suppress meetings, shoot down people, or arrest and confine people, as long as their action is not traversed by the Courts of Law and by Parliament; and what we have to consider with regard to this Mitchelstown meeting is—Has anything taken place which is likely to result in a successful action against the Government in a Court of Law, or in a Vote of Censure in the House of Commons? And I do not think hon. Members have gone deeply enough into this matter. I know of no other check upon the action of the Executive Government than the two I have named. I do not think that you are likely to carry a Vote of Censure in the House of Commons, and the more so because you have not ventured to challenge it. But if you think that the House of Commons affords no protection, and that the action of the Government in breaking up the meeting at Ballycoree, and their action at Mitchelstown, were illegal, you have your remedy in a Court of Law. Damages can be recovered, or other penalties. Before any Judge and jury you can bring your facts, and if the action of the Government was illegal you can recover penalties against them. But when you talk of the rights of the people we are bound to recollect the rights of the Government; and I am bound to say that when the rights of the Government are placed against the rights of the people, unless the House of Commons and a Court of Law are on the side of the people it is always the rights of the Government which will triumph. Irish Members appear to me to have a most extraordinary idea of the Executive Government. They seem to think the Executive Government is a kind of cockshy—a kind of Aunt Sally, against which any kind of insult may be hurled, 397 upon which any kind of coutempt can be poured, and it is under no circumstances to retaliate or show any power of retaliation. The Executive Government being charged with the preservation of the peace, the preservation of law and order, and the security of life and property, is to be exposed to any kind of indignity, to every kind of insult and embarrassment, carried to any length, and to remain as a lay figure, without any power of asserting itself, without any kind of action or vitality whatever. The moment the Government asserts itself in its most elementary duty, at once we have the Irish Members coming down in a storm of indignation and denouncing the Government for the performance of what is its most elementary duty. These are principles which I think are well worthy the consideration of Irish Members. They have chosen deliberately, and, as far as I can make out, even gaily, to challenge a struggle with the Executive Government of Ireland. They have told us that by the force of their great influence and great abilities they will reduce not only the Common Law powers, but the special powers the Government have obtained to a farce and an absurdity, and that they will make them as if Parliament had never enacted them. They have chosen to challenge this struggle with the Executive, and if they persevere and really mean what they say, they may depend upon it that the Executive Government is not going to be that kind of cockshy, that kind of Aunt Sally, that lay figure they would wish it to be. The Executive disposes of forces which are irresistible. The Executive is not only armed by Common Law powers, which I believe to be unlimited, but it is also armed with a special law; and it has behind it all the force of the police, all the force of the military, and all judicial forces, if its action is legal. Not only that, but so long as their action is legal and reasonably directed to the discharge of the elementary Executive duties of government, Her Majesty's Government know that they can count on the support of the great majority of the House of Commons. That is the power which they have deliberately arrayed themselves against. The power was shown at Ballycoree, for the meeting was not held.
§ An hon. MEMBER: It was held.
§ An hon. MEMBER: We held three meetings in Ennis.
§ Several hon. MEMBERS: Yes; and so were we.
§ An hon. MEMBER: Yes; for murder.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
The man condemned to death may say he is about to be murdered. You may call any death that takes place in connection with the action of the law and the Executive murder; but I find the same struggle with the Executive going on in other countries. There is nothing remarkable about it, nothing unusual, nothing that does not happen every day in other countries. It happens frequently in that great country of the West—the United States of America—from which you draw your great support, that the moment a human life is brought within range of a struggle with the Executive it is valued as much as I value a piece of paper on the floor. In that land of liberty—in that land to which you look for the model of the Constitution which you would inflict upon Ireland—I would like to know what are the chances of human life, if you dared to enter into a struggle with the Executive Government? I say again, I do not think the Irish Members have measured the forces they have to contend with in Ireland. When they raise these debates in this House, and pour upon the Government torrents of abuse and indignation, which they think it their duty to do, they do not realize what the effect may be on the Irish people—how they are possibly hurling the Irish people into a struggle in which they must fare the worst. You forget that Parliament is not a thing of to-day—that Parliament lasts for some years. The majority supporting the Government is not a thing which dies away tomorrow or next year. There is no reason at all that I know of why the Government should not endure for some years to come. We are told that they will lose all public support by the action 399 that they have taken, in suppressing public meetings in Ireland, and interfering with the fundamental rights of a free people. We are told that bye-elections are going against us, and that there ought to be a Dissolution, and that in that event the Liberal Party would come back with a great majority. What on earth is the object of the Septennial Act? It was to prevent the people being carried away by the result of bye-elections, and from being possessed by the momentary glamour of some public Leader, or from giving a hasty judgment. You have to deal with a powerful Executive disposing of powerful forces, and supported by a large and by no means diminishing majority. I quite understand there may be a grumble here and there, and I quite understand that the able orators of the Party opposite may be able so to place things before the people, or so to misrepresent them, and so to prevent and distort them, as to snap a verdict here, and a popular victory there; but time will silt the value of these events. I will venture to tell the Party opposite, and also the Government, what would lead to a speedy end of the Parliament—what will lead to a Dissolution. It will be that there should be a recurrence in Ireland, owing to the failure of the Executive, of that frightful disorder and crime, and outrage and terror, which Parliament before neglected to deal with; and you will only ruin the Government beyond redemption, and inflict upon their Party injury which years would not repair, when you insure that there should recur that terror and intimidation which during the last six years has been a melancholy and dark feature of that country, and which the Unionist Party, which is represented by the Government, is pledged to suppress. I believe the Government are impressed with that idea—I am certain that the Party behind them are impressed with that idea. I am certain that the Government realizes, and the Party behind them realizes, the irresistible powers that the Executive disposes of, and that the struggle in Ireland—the struggle in which the right bon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and the Members below the Gangway are engaged—is a great struggle between lawlessness and law, and that on the triumph of law their safety depends.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
Before this Question is put, I beg to make an appeal to the hon. Member to proceed with the debate this evening, notwithstanding the hour, having regard to the fact that no issue has been raised before the House, and that the only Question is that you, Sir, do leave the Chair. I believe I am correct in saying that there is no occasion in history of the adjournment of the debate on a question of this character unless there had been some distinct issue before the House. I think I am also right in saying that on no occasion whatever has an adjournment been moved, even under these circumstances, on the third stage of the Appropriation Bill. Under these circumstances, it will be my duty to resist that Motion; and as we are all anxious to hear the hon. Member for Cork, I trust that he will proceed with the remarks he has to make.
§ MR. PARNELL
Perhaps I may be allowed to say that I think the suggestion that I should proceed at this hour (half-past 12) is a most unreasonable one. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that it was impossible for us, and for the House generally, who had not the advantage of being present at those proceedings at Mitchelstown, to decide as to what action we ought to take until we had heard the statements of both sides. We have had the opportunity of bearing the statement of the Chief Secretary, and the statement of the hon. Member for Northampton, and we have also heard the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon)—those last two Gentlemen having been eye-witnesses. I had nothing to take action upon until I had heard the statements made by the Government to-night and by the eyewitnesses of the proceedings. I propose to move a distinct Amendment to the Motion before the House to-morrow, and I ask the Government to afford me the Constitutional right of doing so; but, had this been otherwise, I submit this House could not have brought this de- 401 bate to a termination after the speeches made to-night without some further discussion and answer from the Government than that we have so far received. Sir, we have the precedent which has been fforded in the case of the Belfast riots, where a sworn inquiry was held into the conduct of the police and all parties concerned. Although it is not pretended that the rioting in the case of Mitchelstown amounted to one-hundredth part of that which took place in Belfast, yet we have had an intimation that two lives have been lost, and another will be lost; and I regret to say that we have had no intimation from the Government that they intend to hold a sworn inquiry into the matter. On the contrary, the Chief Secretary has distinctly announced that he intends to support the conduct of the police, and to shield them from injustice and from inquiry. In the circumstances, we ought to have an opportunity of moving an Amendment to the Motion before the House in the direction of a sworn inquiry, and I propose to move a Resolution of that kind to-morrow if it is in Order. If it is not in Order, I will propose another Resolution.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I may be allowed to say one word in reference to an observation which has fallen from the hon. Member. The hon. Member must be aware that he will have an opportunity of proposing a Resolution without the adjournment of this debate. There is another stage on the third reading, when the hon. Member will be in perfect Order in moving any Resolution. Nothing so unusual, so unprecedented, and I may almost say so unconstitutional, has ever been seen in this House as that a debate on going into Committee should be continued till half-past 12 o'clock, and that then, no Amendment having been proposed, a Motion should be made for the adjournment of the debate The hon. Member for Cork will have a good opportunity of moving his Resolution on the third reading tomorrow; and I mutt, therefore, resist the Motion for Adjournment.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 228: Majority 141.404
|Abraham, W. (Glam.)||Ballantine, W. H. W.|
|Abraham, W. (Limerick, W.)||Bradlaugh, C.|
|Brunner, J. T.|
|Byrne, G. M.||M'Laren, W. S. B.|
|Campbell, H.||Mayne, T.|
|Carew, J. L.||Morley, rt. hon. J.|
|Channing, F. A.||Nolan, Colonel J. P.|
|Clancy, J. J.||Nolan, J.|
|Coleridge, hon. B.||O'Brien, J. F. X.|
|Conway, M.||O'Brien, P.|
|Conybeare, C. A. V.||O'Brien, P. J.|
|Cossham, H.||O'Connor, A.|
|Cox, J. R.||O'Connor, J. (Tippry.)|
|Crilly, D.||O'Gorman Mahon, The|
|Dillon, J.||O'Hanlon, T.|
|Ellis, J. E.||O'Hea, P.|
|Ellis, T. E.||O'Kelly, J.|
|Esmonde, Sir T. H. G.||Parnell, C. S.|
|Fenwick, C.||Pickard, B.|
|Flower, C.||Pickersgill, E. H.|
|Foley, P. J.||Power, P. J.|
|Fox, Dr. J. F.||Provand, A. D.|
|Fuller, G. P.||Pyne, J. D.|
|Gardner, H.||Quinn, T.|
|Gill, H. J.||Reed, Sir E. J.|
|Gill, T. P.||Reynolds, W. J.|
|Gourley, E. T.||Roe, T.|
|Gray, E. D.||Rowlands, J.|
|Grove, Sir T. F.||Rowntree, J.|
|Hanbury-Tracy, hon. F. S. A.||Sexton, T.|
|Sheehan, J. D.|
|Harrington, E.||Sheil, E.|
|Harris, M.||Shirley, W. S.|
|Hayden, L. P.||Stack, J.|
|Hingley, B.||Stanhope, hon. P. J.|
|Hooper, J.||Sutherland, A.|
|Hunter, W. A.||Tanner, C. K.|
|Labouchere, H.||Tuite, J.|
|Leahy, J.||Vivian, Sir H. H.|
|Lefevre, right hon. G. J. S.||Williamson, J.|
|Wilson, H. J.|
|Lockwood, F.||Woodall, W.|
|Macdonald, W. A.||Woodhead, J.|
|M'Arthur, W. A.||TELLERS.|
|M'Donald, P.||Biggar, J. G.|
|M'Kenna, Sir J. N.||Sullivan, D.|
|Addison., J. E. W.||Bethell, Commander G. R.|
|Agg-Gardner, J. T.|
|Ainslie, W. G.||Biddulph, M.|
|Aird, J.||Bigwood, J.|
|Ambrose, W.||Birkbeck, Sir E.|
|Amherst, W. A. T.||Blundell, Colonel H. B. H.|
|Anstruther, Colonel R. H. L.|
|Bolitho, T. B.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Bond, G. H.|
|Baden-Powell, G. S.||Bonsor, H. C. O.|
|Bailey, Sir J. R.||Boord, T. W.|
|Baird, J. G. A.||Borthwick, Sir A.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. A. J.||Bristowe, T. L.|
|Balfour, G. W.||Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F.|
|Banes, Major G. E.|
|Baring, T. C.||Brookfield, A. M.|
|Barry, A. H. Smith-||Bruce, Lord H.|
|Bartley, G. C. T.||Burghley, Lord|
|Bates, Sir E.||Caldwell, J.|
|Baumann, A. A.||Carmarthen, Marq. of|
|Beach, W. W. B.||Cavendish, Lord E.|
|Beadel, W. J.||Chamberlain, R.|
|Beckett, E. W.||Chaplin, right hon. H.|
|Bective, Earl of||Charrington, S.|
|Bentinck, W. G. C.||Churchill, rt. hn. Lord R. H. S|
|Beresford, Lord C. W. de la Poer|
|Clarke, Sir E, G.|
|Colomb, Capt. J. C. R.||Holland, right hon. Sir H. T.|
|Commerell, Adml. Sir J. E.|
|Cooke, C. W. R.||Hornby, W. H.|
|Corbett, J.||Howard, J.|
|Corry, Sir J. P.||Howard, J. M.|
|Cross, H. S.||Hunt, F. S.|
|Crossley, Sir S. B.||Isaacs, L. H.|
|Crossman, Gen. Sir W.||Isaacson, F. W.|
|Cubitt, right hon. G.||Jackson, W. L.|
|Curzon, Viscount||Jarvis, A. W.|
|Dalrymple, Sir C.||Jeffreys, A. F.|
|Davenport, H. T.||Kelly, J. R.|
|Davenport, W. B.||Kennaway, Sir J. H.|
|De Lisle, E. J. L. M. P.||Kenrick, W.|
|De Worms, Baron H.||Kenyon, hon. G. T.|
|Dickson, Major A. G.||Kenyon-Slaney, Col W.|
|Dimsdale, Baron R.|
|Dorington, Sir J. E.||Kerans, F. H.|
|Dyke, right hon. Sir W. H.||Kimber, H.|
|King-Harman, right hon. Colonel E. R.|
|Egerton, hon. A. de T.||Knowles, L.|
|Elcho, Lord||Lafone, A.|
|Elton, C. I.||Laurie, Colonel R. P.|
|Evelyn, W. J.||Lawrance, J. C.|
|Ewart, W.||Lawrence, W. F.|
|Eyre, Colonel H.||Lea, T.|
|Fellowes, A. E.||Lechmere, Sir E. A. H.|
|Fergusson, right hon. Sir J.||Lees, E.|
|Finch, G. H.||Lewisham, right hon. Viscount|
|Fisher, W. H.|
|Fitzgerald, R. U. P.||Long, W. H.|
|Fitz-Wygram, General Sir F. W.||Lowther, hon. W.|
|Lowther, J. W.|
|Fletcher, Sir H.||Lymington, Viscount|
|Folkestone, right hon. Viscount||Macartney, W. G. E.|
|Macdonald, right hon. J. H. A.|
|Forwood, A. B.|
|Fraser, General C. C.||Maclean, J. M.|
|Gardner, R. Richardson-||Maclure, J. W.|
|Madden, D. H.|
|Gedge, S.||Makins, Colonel W. T.|
|Gent-Davis, R.||Mallock, R.|
|Gibson, J. G.||Manners, right hon. Lord J. J. R.|
|Gilliat, J. S.||Marriott, right hon. W. T.|
|Godson, A. F.|
|Goldsworthy, Major General W. T.||Maskelyne, M. H. N. Story-|
|Goschen, rt. hon. G. J.||Matthews, rt. hn. H.|
|Gray, C. W.||Maxwell, Sir H. E.|
|Greenall, Sir G.||Mayne, Admiral R. C.|
|Grimston, Viscount||Mills, hon. C. W.|
|Hall, C.||Milvain, T.|
|Hamilton, right hon. Lord G. F.||Morrison, W.|
|Mount, W. G.|
|Hamilton, Col. C. E.||Mowbray, rt. hon. Sir J.R.|
|Hartington, Marq. of|
|Hastings, G. W.||Mowbray, R. G. C.|
|Havelock - Allan, Sir H. M.||Mulholland, H. L.|
|Heathcote, Capt. J. H. Edwards-||Muntz, P. A.|
|Murdoch, C. T.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Newark, Viscount|
|Hervey, Lord F.||Northcote, hon. H. S.|
|Hill, right hon. Lord A. W.||Paget, Sir R. H.|
|Parker, hon. F.|
|Hill, Colonel E. S.||Pearce, Sir W.|
|Hill, A. S.||Pelly, Sir L.|
|Hoare, S.||Pitt-Lewis, G.|
|Hobhouse, H.||Plunket, rt. hon. D. R.|
|Plunkett, hon. J. W.||Tapling, T. K.|
|Powell, F. S.||Taylor, F.|
|Quilter, W. C.||Temple, Sir R.|
|Raikes, rt. hon. H. C.||Theobald, J.|
|Rankin, J.||Tollemache, H. J.|
|Rasch, Major F. C.||Tomlinson, W. E. M|
|Reed, H. B.||Tyler, Sir H. W.|
|Richardson, T.||Vernon, hon. G. R.|
|Ritchie, rt. hn. C. T.||Vincent, C. E. H.|
|Robertson, J. P. B.||Walsh, hon. A. H. J.|
|Robertson, W. T.||Waring, Colonel T.|
|Robinson, B.||Watson, J.|
|Ross, A. H.||Webster, Sir R. E.|
|Royden, T. B.||West, Colonel W. C.|
|Sandys, Lieut.-Col. T. M.||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Saunderson, Col. E. J.||Whitmore, C. A.|
|Sellar, A. C.||Wiggin, H.|
|Selwin-Ibbetson, rt. hon. Sir H. J.||Wilson, Sir S.|
|Wodehouse, E. R.|
|Sidebotham, J. W.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Sidebottom, W.||Wood, N.|
|Smith, rt. hon. W. H.||Wortley, C. B. Stuart-|
|Spencer, J. E.||Wroughton, P.|
|Stanhope, rt. hon. E.||Yerburgh, R. A.|
|Stansfeld, right hon. J.||Young, C. E. B.|
|Stephens, H. C.||TELLERS.|
|Stewart, M. J.||Douglas, A. Akers-|
|Sutherland, T.||Walrond, Col. W. H.|
|Talbot, J. G.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
I have some reluctance in expressing myself, as I think it is my duty to express myself in this debate, because I cannot help recognizing that the language used here may be appreciated on the other side of the Channel by men without the same kind of protection against undue action on the part of the Executive which we have here; and I feel reluctance even to express the principles of law which seem to me clear, if at the same time I have to fear, as I really have, that the expression of those principles may encourage men in asserting their rights, when the answer to that assertion may be a bullet, directed by the orders of the Executive. I feel I should be doing less than my duty if I did not challenge some of the monstrous doctrines laid down from the opposite Benches this evening. I hardly know which doctrines are the most astounding, those of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour), to whom I listened with great attention, or those of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson), or those of the Leader of the Tory democracy of England (Lord Randolph Churchill), as to the rights of the Government and the rights of indi- 405 viduals. I understood the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington to advance the doctrine that no individual has the right to offer physical resistance to a member of the police force under any circumstances. No more monstrous misconception of the law was ever stated in any place or at any time. The reading of Hawkins's Pleas of the Crown, and some of the old judgments, apart from any of the newer law, would have modified such a doctrine. I had the duty once, then as plaintiff, but in consequence of the previous position of defendant, to argue that very point before a full Court of Common Pleas, presided over by Lord Chief Justice Erle; and if I err to-night, it will not be for want of having looked up the law on the subject. I state, without fear of contradiction from any person who has the smallest acquaintance with the law of England, that the mere fact of a man being a constable gives him no right to do an illegal thing, and that any individual whom he attacks illegally has the right to resist him, even if that resistance involves the killing of him? [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL dissented.] The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington shakes his head. I have had the advantage of reading the law from even higher authorities than the noble Lord, and of hearing it expressed by those whose acquaintance with it is even more extended than his own. I will, however, try to examine this question from a higher point of view than that which has been the standpoint of examination from the opposite Benches. What is the right of proclamation of a meeting; what effect has the proclamation upon a meeting? The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland himself says the proclamation of a meeting does not ascertain its character, does not define what its character is, and gives no character to it which it otherwise would not have. And yet I understand the Government to claim that when they have proclaimed a meeting they may disperse it simply because they have proclaimed it, and because they choose to think it illegal. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington says—" Oh, if they have acted wrongly, you have your legal remedy." What remedy has the man that has had his skull blown in; what remedy have those who are crippled and maimed; 406 what remedy is there for individuals against the Executive? To talk in this fashion, and then to declare in the House of Commons and in a reformed Parliament that the rights of Government are unlimited—if this be the doctrine of Tory democracy, I am glad it is proclaimed before the General Election.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I did not say that the powers of the Government were unlimited, but that they wore to be checked only by a Court of Law or by Parliament.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I misunderstood the noble Lord; but it was hardly my fault, because the noble Lord expressly used these words, for I took them down—" The Government are armed with Common Law powers, which are, in my opinion, unlimited." I say the Government are not so armed. I say that no sound Constitutional lawyer would say so, and I say that any man who contends that the Government in this country have unlimited powers is one who may be a Tory, but who has no claims upon the English democracy.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
What I said was that the Executive must be supported either by Parliament or by a Court of Law.
Well, but being sustained by a Resolution of Parliament does not make that legal which is illegal. You may have the majority vote in favour of illegality. I have known the noble Lord take part in a majority vote which a Court held to be illegal. A Court of Law has described a Resolution concurred in by the noble Lord as an illegal Resolution; but the Courts had no power over the House of Commons. The power of Parliament is unlimited; but the powers of the Executive Government are not unlimited in this country, and shall not be while we can prevent them. Let us try to follow the arguments the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) has advanced. The Chief Secretary said that in proclaiming a meeting they have to consider the state of the district, the kind of speeches that will be made, and the character of the men who are to attend the meeting. Do you really mean that because some men, known to be seditious men, are likely to make seditious speeches, you are to proclaim the meeting, disperse it, and shoot down the 407 persons who take any part in it? If men make seditious speeches prosecute them; but do not arrogate powers which no Government, except a despotic Government, can ever claim to exercise. The noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) says that nothing that is done in Ireland will affect the right of meeting in this country. I do not think it will; but that is all the worse, and it becomes all the more necessary that English Representatives, especially if they themselves have taken part in similar struggles, should take care their Irish compatriots are not unfairly dealt with. I have taken part in two proclaimed meetings. In regard to one of them I was formally served with the notice of proclamation. Let me deal with the question of the right of the police, or police reporter, to attend any meeting. I lay down the doctrine that when a meeting is held in a room or field the property of some individual, the invitation to the meeting is an invitation which the promoters of that meeting may cancel at any moment. The police have only the right of entering the meeting in consequence of some previous felony in connection with those taking part in it, and have only the right of ordinary individuals to attend the meeting; and the promoters of the meeting have the right to say they do not want the police there, and the police have no right to offer resistance on being expelled. I put that down as a sound doctrine of law, and one which I do not think the English Law Officers will venture to challenge. I had been served with a notice proclaiming a meeting—a meeting which was advertised to take place in Hyde Park some 22 years ago—and I have also known a meeting proclaimed which was to have taken place in Trafalgar Square. In both cases a written notice prohibiting the meeting was issued by the Home Office. In each case I disregarded the notice, and in each case the meeting was held, and no violence was used against those taking part in the demonstrations. I had given notice with regard to the Trafalgar meeting to the Home Secretary declaring that his proclamation of the meeting was illegal, and that any attack on the part of the police would be illegal, and would be resisted by force. The result was that the meeting took place, was perfectly orderly, and after it was held the 408 people dispersed peaceably and quietly. In Ireland that would not have been the case. They would have shot down unfortunate wretches "misled" by me. The people, so far as I know anything about them, are growing indignant with the monstrous course you—the Government of this country—are pursuing in Ireland. It was declared over and over again by the Chief Secretary that there was no intention of interfering with the conduct of any particular agitation in Ireland; but here we see in Ennis a meeting, in every sense a political one, has been interfered with by the Executive. You proclaimed this meeting, and you adopted a course of proceeding like that of Mitchelstown with the lightest heart—you value the lives of the people so lightly that you have the official who ought to be responsible for the peace and prosperity of Ireland, and whose constant effort ought to be to save the spilling of human blood, telegraphing to his representatives in Ireland to shoot down the people if necessary. A real statesman would go great lengths in order to avoid the use of weapons against citizens of his country—a real statesman would never allow arms to be used against the people excepting as a last resort, and then he would look upon it as a thing greatly to be deplored. But in Ireland that is not the case. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington thinks that the Government will keep its majority. Yes; it will keep its majority so long as there are no elections to influence the occupants of the Treasury Bench. People at the last Election believed that the Government meant a peaceful Union, and an attempt to do their best for the Irish people by means of some kind of ameliorative reform. They did not imagine that the promised local self-government meant the baton of the policeman or a rifle thrust out of a barrack window. If there is one circumstance which has kept the English people more loyal than another it has been the largeness of their liberties with regard to public meeting. Public meetings have been the safety-valve for discontent—the English people have been loyal because they have had opportunities of protesting against that with which they were dissatisfied. A distinction has been drawn by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington between that which is illegal and that which is legal. The noble Lord says 409 that a meeting to protest against some grievance is legal, but that a meeting called in arrestment of the law, or in excitement of arrestment of the law, is not legal. Will the Solicitor General for England say that he would draw such a distinction in reference to one of the large anti-vaccination meetings when great crowds assembled around the gaol, carried people on their shoulders, gave them great feasts, and honoured them with music all through the town? The doctrine is monstrous. It is only because you are satisfied to treat Ireland in a different way from the way in which you would treat England when you dare to take up such a position as this. I venture to put it to you that the Executive Government has no powers except those which are given to them by Statute. There are no Common Law powers conferred on the Ministry as such. The Crown has some prerogatives, and by the habit of the country the Secretaries of State are allowed to do some things under cover of the Crown; but the Ministry have no powers except those which are statutory, and whenever they travel outside those statutory powers they are themselves guilty of illegality, which I hope the country will punish. I must say I am shocked that in a discussion which has to deal with two dead men, and one man who is dying, Ministers should think it worthy of their dignity to bandy questions with ex-Ministers as to whether those ex-Ministers did similar things or not. I have not been a party to such action. During the little time you left me to vote in Parliament, from 1880 to 1885, I voted against such powers being conferred. The only vote I ever gave—the only votes I ever did give—were for the purpose of depriving the people of arms, because I did not think that to a starving and wretched people, oppressed and injured, arms were the sort of food to entrust them with. But if we deprive them of arms, we should not deprive them of every right they have, and then say to them—" Well, if the Executive have acted illegally, you have a remedy against it." What is their remedy? Are the people of Ireland to sue every constable and every soldier? I am sorry that right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench on this side have not thought it right to challenge the question with a distinct expression of censure 410 on the Government. I can understand that they did not take that course because of the lack of means for giving effect to their views in a Division; but I would have much preferred to have seen a few Members in the Opposition Lobby, so that their names might have been recorded against the action of the Government, which, while pretending to maintain the Union, are shooting down innocent people in Ireland.
§ MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
I am about to give a reason for objecting to the policy pursued by the present Government. I went to Ireland a week ago, and I will give the House the result of my observations, with great respect, and as calmly as possible. When I went to Ireland, and looked around me, it appeared to me as if I were in a country occupied by a foreign enemy. I found a military force in fortified barracks in every petty town in the country. I found houses hero and there barricaded; I found the occupying force regarded with hatred. I found the people regarding those who resisted the occupying force as patriots. I went, Sir, to Mitchelstown, in pursuance of what I considered to be a duty. I found there, Sir, a proprietor living in a palace with a park surrounded by a wall seven miles in circumference. This palace and grounds, it seemed to me, would require at least £20,000 a-year to maintain—and as a "chemical Crœsus," as The Times has the excellent taste to call me, I may, possibly, be allowed to be a judge upon such matters. I understood that the proprietor had a gross income of £15,000 a-year, and a net income of about £2,000 a-year, and that the tenants were desirous of obtaining a reduction. I was informed that two of the tenants, by the grace of the proprietor, had obtained permission to apply to the Court for a reduction, and that one tenant had obtained 20 per cent reduction, but that thereafter no more tenants could get permission to go to the Court. Now, it is evident that if the remainder of the tenants got a 20 per cent reduction, the nominal proprietor would have no income, and therefore it is that the tenants have been refused permission to go into the Court. Further, I understand that the nominal proprietor and her mortgagees had been for several years firing cross notices to the tenants 411 not to pay. Under these circumstances, I am told that the managers of the system called the Plan of Campaign in Ireland stepped in to the rescue. The tenantry had for years paid no rent, and the managers of the Plan of Campaign stepped in, and calculated the rent leas 20 per cent; and I am now told that the rent is ready to be paid to that party who can claim a right to it. Now, Sir, it is for the maintenance of such a situation as this that a semi-military police force, and that the soldiers of whom we have heard to-day, are supported. The most remarkable point about it is this—that the people of Great Britain have for generations past been foolish enough to pay for the maintenance of such a system. For my own part, I decline any longer to remain a party to such a state of affairs without protest. For the maintenance of the present state of affairs the people of Great Britain are taxed, free speech is forbidden, public meeting is prohibited, and the people are batoned and shot. I went to Ireland with the object of persuading the people of that country that it was their duty, at this stage, to be calm. I wished to assure them that victory was in sight, and that they would very shortly have the right to manage their own affairs. I wished to tell them that the Party which sits upon the Treasury Bench now was discredited in the eyes of the people of England, and was very certain soon to fall. On approaching Mitchelstown we were accompanied, as the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) has stated, by a number of independent witnesses. The hon. Member for East Mayo has mentioned the names of two. They are unwilling to give evidence unless summoned, for the reason that they occupy official positions; but I am not aware that the Government has as yet asked for any independent evidence. Members of the Government tell us they approach this subject with some reserve. Well, Sir, I do not consider that any reserve on my part is necessary, for the reason that I am not a Judge, but only a witness. On approaching Mitchelstown we were met by a crowd of people, orderly in the extreme, and as good-humoured as any set of people I ever saw in my life. The meeting was formed, perfect quiet was obtained, and at the moment that perfect quiet 412 was secured, the police thrust themselves into the midst of the crowd in wedge form. I did not understand what the proceeding meant until, a few minutes after, I was told a Government reporter was there amongst them. Sir, the police wedged themselves into the crowd until the head of the wedge was as near to the waggonette as I am to the reporters in this House, and the reporter who was with them might then have heard every word which was spoken from the brake or waggonette. Up to this time there was no violent resistance from the crowd whatever. The force then retired outside the crowd and joined a larger body of police. Then with the larger body they returned to the crowd, and immediately upon reaching the edge of the crowd struck at the horses which were ranged on the outside, and I saw a sword bayonet drawn by one of the police. Immediately afterwards I saw a horse rear and the rider of that horse struck by the batons of the police. The horses were thrown into confusion, and the police struck right and left at the unresisting crowd. Sir, up to this point not a stone was thrown, and not a blow was struck. It seemed to me an utterly wanton and unprovoked attack on a peaceable and quiet set of people. No doubt, the Government will credit the stories they have received from their instruments in Ireland; but I have very little doubt that most people in reach of my voice will believe that I am speaking the truth. The people were then fired upon, as I believe, without any legal orders. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland did not tell us who gave the orders; he slurred the question over. I should like to hear from some right hon. Gentleman in authority who gave the order to the police. As I understand the matter, the Resident Magistrate was the man who was bound to give such order if it were to be given legally. That gentleman, I believe, was not at hand and did not give the order. The County Inspector, Colonel Brownrigg, was in the basement of the police barracks. The firing took place from the floor above, and I believe, from that circumstance, that Colonel Brownrigg did not give the order to the police to fire. For the satisfaction of the House and for the satisfaction of the country I beg the Go- 413 vernment to say who gave the order to the police to fire. Mr. Speaker, this Government is above all things a Government of law and order, and yet it is not very long ago that a constable who led an attack upon a public meeting at Youghal was convicted by a Coroner's jury of wilful murder; but that constable, whatever his rank may be, has not yet been brought to trial, and, I believe, never will be. I believe that this is a very common occurrence, and one which does not surprise the Irish people. I ask the Government whether they will give us a Return of all the police who have been convicted of murder during the last 10 years by Coroners' juries, how many have been arrested, and how many have been brought to trial, so that all doubt as to this matter may be set at rest? Yet it is this Government, which is absolutely flouting the law, which asks us to support it in the execution of the Crimes Act. That Act, Sir, I believe is rightly named the Crimes Act; it appears to me from what I saw at Mitchelstown to be an Act for the legislation of murder. The Government have by that Act prohibited the combination known as the National League; but they have not interfered with the combination known as the Irish Loyal and Patriotic League. They have not interfered with combination in the case of the landlords. The Government have a terrible horror of intimidation. I should like to tell the House a little story on this point. Two years ago the Diocesan Synod met at Cork, and the Bishop invited the clergy to meet in private at his palace. The Bishop announced from the chair that he had joined the Cork Defence Union, and he invited the clergy to do the same. The hon. Gentleman, whom I see opposite, the Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry), acted as secretary to the meeting, and handed out cards of membership. I should like the House to permit me to describe the position of these clergymen. Their incomes depend very largely on what is collected in their localities. I give as an instance the case of one Protestant clergyman in the County of Cork; he is bound to collect £ 134 a-year from the locality in order that he may obtain £250 from the central fund. Anything less than £134 a-year entitles him only to 30s. from the central fund to every £1 he collects in 414 the locality, so that if he only gets £10 from the locality he receives £l5 from the central fund, and his total income is £25 a-year. Thus it seems to me that the clergy at this Synod were pressed on the one hand by their right rev. Father in God, and on the other hand by their purse-bearer. Can any intimidation be more intolerable than this? I attended a large meeting in Dublin, and I saw there an hon. Member of this House (Mr. W. O'Brien). I may say he was in evening dress, for it is a significant thing. I am told that swallow tail-coats are becoming more Common in the Nationalist ranks, not only here, but in America. I saw that hon. Gentleman confronted by 5,000 men and women who were there to express their admiration, their respect, and their love for him. I saw him supported by the chief dignitary of his Church, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin; but that hon. Gentleman(Mr. W. O'Brien) is to-day, I suppose, regarded as a felon. Now, that hon. Member declared to me that in prison he would refuse to salute the warders, would refuse to turn his face to the wall when visitors came, would refuse to associate with his fellow-prisoners, the lowest of the low, and would refuse to carry out his own excrements from his cell. Well, Sir, the Government know the punishment for these broaches of discipline. I understand it is solitary confinement. Now, the House knows well that the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) is a man of fragile frame, and my only fear is that the punishment may kill him. I dare the Government to try to compel him to submit to their rules. Now, let me say, in conclusion, that my work in Ireland was interrupted by what I saw in Mitchelstown. If hon. Gentlemen opposite think I was wrong in going to Ireland with the object of striving to keep the people calm they are welcome to their opinion—I intend to go back to Ireland and to continue my work. I believe, Sir, that if I encourage the people of Ireland under the provocations they have received, if I encourage them in spite of all that provocation to maintain what I believe, and what they believe, to be their legal rights, I shall be acting in a way that will earn the reward I seek—the approbation of my fellow-countrymen.
§ Question put, and agreed to.415
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clauses 1, 2, and 3, severally agreed to.
§ Clause 4 (Treasury may, in certain cases of exigency, authorize expenditure unprovided for; provided that the aggregate grants for the Navy Services and for the Army Services respectively be not exceeded).
§ Motion made, and Question put," That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Conybeare.)
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 61; Noes 229: Majority 168.—(Div. List, No.478.)
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Remaining Clauses agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.